/ 23 April 2020

Military deployment a show of mercy not of might – SANDF

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Allegations of abuse and excessive use of force by the security forces have been a feature during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) says additional reinforcements to bolster the military’s presence to enforce the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will mostly concentrate on infrastructure, logistics and medical support.

This week President Cyril Ramaphosa informed Parliament of the deployment of more than 73 000 SANDF members.

In a letter to the joint standing committee of defence, Ramaphosa said: “The outbreak of Covid-19 continues to increase with reported cases across the Republic of South Africa … as a result, I have decided to deploy additional members of the SANDF consisting of the regular force, reserve force, and auxiliary force.”

Addressing a virtual meeting of the committee on Wednesday, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs the extra deployment was necessary because the 2 820 soldiers already deployed across the country are fighting fatigue after four weeks of daily duty.

Ten battalions have been deployed to each province, with two stationed in Gauteng.

Military leaders told MPs the newly deployed personnel will be used to set up field hospitals, triage units and quarantine sites in Covid-19 hotspots around the country in case the public health service becomes overwhelmed.

“Three field hospitals will be set up at 1Mil hospital in Pretoria, 2Mil in Cape Town and 3Mil hospital in Bloemfontein. The Bluff Command Centre will be used in Durban,” said Secretary of Defence Sam Gulube.

He added that the Pretoria showgrounds have also been earmarked as a field hospital site, while sites are still being considered in the Eastern Cape.

SANDF officials said major medical equipment including beds, mattresses and ventilators will have to be procured to set up ICUs. A million masks will be ordered. The military operation is expected to cost in the region of R4.5-billion.

MPs across political parties heaped praise on the SANDF for the work done so far in the lockdown effort.

Committee chairperson Cyril Xaba said the military effort is far greater than the South African public realise.

But there are still questions about military conduct during the lockdown period.

On alleged abuses of civilians by the SANDF members, military ombudsman Lieutenant-General Vusumuzi Masondo told MPs their office had received 33 complaints over the course of the past four weeks. Twenty of these complaints were from the public whereas the others were from political and non-governmental organisations.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs she would not comment on the murder of an Alexandra man, Collins Khosa, who was allegedly beaten and killed at the hands of soldiers. But she described Khosa’s death as “an unfortunate incident”.

The South African police, military police, and military ombudsman are investigating the murder.