We Are More (WAM) founder Craig Peiser will be sent for psychiatric evaluation after an outburst during a brief court appearance in the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Mr Peiser, an estate agent, was arrested at Fish Hoek Beach on Saturday February 6 during a protest against the national lockdown after he allegedly pulled a mask from a journalist’s face and refused to wear his mask in a public space.
He faces charges of assault, crimen injuria, contravention of the Disaster Management Act and failing to furnish a police officer with his particulars.
The media was not allowed in court during his appearance due to Covid-19 protocols, but it was reported that Mr Peiser argued with court staff as he refused to wear his mask in court and later swore at the magistrate and public prosecutor during his appearance.
National Prosecution Authority (NPA) spokesman Eric Ntabazalila said the accused had rambled on and had shouted and sworn in court, and the presiding officer had decided to keep him in custody and refer him to the district surgeon for an assessment.
“He also charged and lunged at the prosecutor but fortunately he was restrained,” Mr Ntabazalila said.
Mr Peiser appeared in court again yesterday, Wednesday February 10, but the outcome of that appearance was not known at the time of publication.
According to the WAM Facebook page, the group’s intention is to uphold the constitution of South Africa. The group was also one of the organisers of the beach protests on Saturday January 30.
During the protest on Saturday February 6, about 150 people gathered on the beach, including WAM supporters. Some wore T-shirts saying “The virus is fear, It’s spread by the media” and “End lockdown now. Stop gene therapy”.
While Mr Peiser apologised to a cameraman who was with the journalist for pulling her mask off, he refused to do so on camera on Saturday. However he did so on Monday before his court appearance.
On Saturday, following the altercation with the journalist, he deflected questions from the media before being approached by a police officer who read him his rights and arrested him. At first he resisted arrest but then allowed police to escort him to the police van while his supporters shouted “leave him alone, leave him alone.”
WAM supporter Coral Vorster, said the group represented “unity and diversity”, and Mr Peiser should never have been arrested. He had not assaulted anyone and acted in the best interest of South Africans, she said.
A beachgoer, Mona Bloom, accused the group of acting improperly by drawing so many people to the beach and encouraging them not to wear their masks.
Meanwhile, Property.CoZa has severed ties with Mr Peiser. In a statement on its Facebook page, the company distances itself from Mr Peiser’s views on Covid regulations. It says: “Property.CoZa insist that our agents and staff adhere to the Covid protocols we have instilled in our offices, which include inter alia the wearing of masks, sanitising regularly, and adhering to the practices of social distancing, to ensure the safety of our clients, agents and staff. Unfortunately this is not something that Mr Peiser could agree to, and as such the parties have mutually agreed to terminate the independent contractor agreement between Property.CoZa and Mr Peiser.”
Mr Peiser could not be reached for comment.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has condemned the actions of the anti-mask protesters saying: “I am also angered by the complete disregard for Covid-19 regulations and the law. Every single person has a responsibility to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by adhering to important regulations, wearing their masks, and avoiding crowds and close contact. This is unacceptable behaviour which we stand firmly against. We live in a constitutional democracy where the rule of law is paramount and we remain opposed to anyone breaking the law in our province.”