Soldiers patrol the streets and various hostels in Alexandra, Johannesburg, in this March 28 2020 file photo. Picture: ALON SKUY
Soldiers patrol the streets and various hostels in Alexandra, Johannesburg, in this March 28 2020 file photo. Picture: ALON SKUY

The deployment of nearly 3,000 soldiers to help the police enforce the coronavirus lockdown regulations is just not enough and the government needs to beef it up, defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Wednesday.

Justifying President Cyril Ramaphosa’s request to deploy another 73,180 troops on the country’s streets, Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs the 2,820 soldiers initially deployed were well below the requirements of the challenge at hand.

“At this point, if you look at the nature of the challenge, it’s clear to us we need a way bigger number,” she said.

Ramaphosa wrote to the joint standing committee on defence co-chairs on Tuesday, informing them of his intention to deploy the additional troops to help fight the spread of Covid-19.

Ramaphosa said in the letter to parliament that the deployment will last until June 26. The additional deployment will cost R4.5bn, with the budget including the cost for the deployment of personnel and other items, such as the large-scale purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The SANDF has already deployed soldiers in all nine provinces. Their responsibilities include holding joint roadblocks, medical screening, essential service delivery, such as supplying water, as well as safeguarding the border.

The SANDF plans to also set up field hospitals in the provinces seen as virus hotspots, being Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Free State.  

The defence committee heard that the 73,180 to be deployed include members of the SA military health service, which can be used to augment SA’s medical response, as well as engineers, which form part of the auxiliary force, described as including volunteers who do not form part of the reserve force.

Mapisa-Nqakula referred to images in other countries in which refrigerated military trucks are used as mobile mortuaries, and in which soldiers have helped remove bodies of the dead. SA has constraints when it comes to mortuaries and the escalation of the death rate could worsen the situation.

“In the event of people losing their lives, the defence force will be expected to come in, remove the bodies and bury the bodies,” she said. “We have prepared for every eventuality that may arise.” 

The use of force by the military against members of the public in enforcing the lockdown regulations has raised a lot of concern. SANDF members have already been linked to the torture of several Gauteng citizens and to the death of an Alexandra man, Collins Khoza.

Dealing with complaints leveled against military personnel, military ombudsman retired Lt-General Vusumuzi Masondo said he has received 33 complaints since the start of the lockdown. Twenty complaints are from members of the public, while 12 are from soldiers or former soldiers. He has been unable to establish who made the other complaint.

Masondo said the ombud is still in the initial stages of investigations, and that the main difficulty is that it does not have complete information. Some of the complaints have been made  anonymously, while some people just sent in videos with no added context or information.

He said he has also received letters from members of the public commending the actions of the SANDF.

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