The Joint Standing Committee on Defence met to discuss defence operations and developments under the nationwide lockdown in response to the spread of COVID-19.
The Committee congratulated the Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) responsible for the repatriation effort of South Africans from the COVID-19 epicentre, Wuhan, in China. Appreciation was extended to the Members of Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the Department of Health (DoH), who were involved in the mission.
The Committee unanimously resolved to support the employment of additional members of the SANDF in response to interventions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Concerning the largest mobilisation effort ever made in the country, the Committee sought clarity regarding the circumstances surrounding President Ramaphosa’s constitutionally-required deployment letter for the SANDF, which had erroneously been directed to the Parliamentary Committee and not to the Parliamentary leadership. The Committee considered several letters sent by President Ramaphosa on the matter of deployment of the SANDF. The President was compelled in terms of Section 201(3) of the Constitution and Section 18(2) of the Defence Act (2002) to inform Parliament when deploying the SANDF. Parliament needed to be informed of the reasons for deployment, the place of deployment, number of soldiers concerned, the cost involved, and the period of employment of soldiers that was proposed. The Committee was in support of the employment of the additional 73 180 SANDF members proposed by the Presidency.
The Committee noted the financial implications of such an increase in the numbers of those deployed. It was resolved that the additional R4.5 billion in funding made available to the Department of Defence would allow such actions to be possible and were necessary. Included in these costs was the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to protect the SANDF from the virus.
The Committee resolved to refer the acting Leader of the DA, John Steenhuisen, to the Speaker of the National Assembly, to be held accountable for tweeting the letter that had been sent by President Ramaphosa concerning the increased numbers of SANDF members that were deployed. A Member described the act as a “mischievous leaking” of the letter.
The Committee also discussed allegations of heavy-handed conduct by members of the SANDF deployed during the lockdown. The Minister of Defence said that these allegations should not detract from the good work that was being done. She emphasised that alleged evidence of heavy-handedness that was being spread on social media did not necessarily concern activities during the lockdown period. She referred to provocateurs peddling misinformation, to the detriment of the SANDF operations. The Committee expressed its confidence in the Office of the Military Ombud in its capacity to deal with the cases of abuse of power by SANDF members, and encouraged the investigations.
Addressing the significant increase of SANDF soldiers that were to be deployed to assist in light of the spread of COVID-19, the Minister said that the initial deployment of 3 000 soldiers was simply not enough to be effective. The SANDF had been deployed to all of the provinces, tasked with assisting in conducting road blocks, medical screening, delivering essential services, as well as maintaining the integrity of the borders. Plans were also in place to set up field hospitals in provinces considered to be hot spots for the COVID-19 virus. These included the Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape. The additional personnel would include members of the South African Military Health Service, who would be used to augment South Africa’s medical response to COVID-19. Moreover, these numbers also included engineers who would form part of the auxiliary force. The SANDF’s responsibilities also included ensuring that the country’s mortuary capacity was sufficient to deal with peak impact scenarios, thought to be in September. It would be responsible for disposing of bodies effectively, to avoid a further spread of the disease.
The Committee noted and supported the extension of the period of deployment of 1 165 SANDF members as part of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), as well as the extension of the period of deployment of SANDF members as part of Operation Copper in the Mozambique Channel for counter-piracy enforcement.
The Committee requested clarity on reported incidents involving two of the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) C-130 Hercules aircraft at the Goma and Waterkloof airbases, and the impact the incidents would have on the deployment and logistics capabilities of the SANDF.
Co-Chairperson Xaba began the meeting and introduced the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) delegation to the Committee. Present officials included the Minister of Defence, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Secretary of Defence, Dr Sam Gulube; the South African Defence Force Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Lindile Yam; the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant-General Rudzani Maphwanya; the Acting Secretary General of the SANDF, General Noel Ndlovu; and the Military Ombud, General Vusumuzi Masondo.
He said it was the first time for the meeting to be conducted digitally, and that it seemed to be becoming a permanent feature of Parliamentary life. New rules had been developed in light of COVID-19 pertaining to conducting virtual meetings. These were similar to the standing rules of Parliament – issues would be tabled to adopt the agenda.
The meeting mainly concerned the consideration of four letters. The topics included in these letters were the repatriation mission to extract South African citizens from Wuhan, China, in cooperation with the SANDF, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), and the Department of Health (DOH). They also included letters from 25 March and 21 April concerning the deployment of SANDF Members to combat the spread of COVID-19. The latter concerned the extension of employment of the SANDF to work with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to maintain law and order, support other departments, and control the South African borderlines to contain the spread of COVID-19. This letter contained details of the increase in SANDF Members deployed to do so from the original 2 870 of 25 March, to 73 180 soldiers. Another matter was the extension of deployment of Members of the SANDF to deter piracy along the Mozambique coast. The letter from the Presidency dated 25 March had extended the SANDF participation of 1 165 Members in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He said that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula would present the aforementioned letters, and thereafter he would open the meeting for comments from the Committee.
The subsequent item was the briefing by the Department of Defence on the SANDF’s deployment movements for the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
The final item to be dealt with would be the briefing by the Military Ombud regarding its progress in the investigation of cases of alleged heavy-handedness by Members of the SANDF during the lockdown.
Briefing by Minister of Defence
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula thanked the Members for the opportunity to brief the Committee on what was being done on the ground to combat COVID-19.
The letter sent by the Presidency on 25 March 2020 had been informed by Section 22 of the Disaster Management Act in the rendering of emergency services, including the SANDF, to curb the spread of COVID-19. It was true that the SANDF numbers deployed at the time amounted to 2 800 members. The Department of Defence had not realised the magnitude of the challenge they were facing.
This had led to the letter sent on 22 April, which had deployed a far larger number of SANDF members. This was informed by the receipt of reports on the spread of the COVID-19 virus and scientific analysis, as well what had been happening in other countries, leading to a larger force being deployed. All soldiers had been put on standby. Of particular concern was to alleviate the exhaustion that had been setting in on the Members of the SANDF who had originally been deployed. Moreover, the nature of the challenges being realised had resulted in the release of much larger numbers.
The counter-piracy deployment in Mozambique was a permanent operation undertaken in agreement between Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania. Most of those deployed in the region were South Africans. The matter was being raised to ensure that forces continued to be active in the area, as there would be trouble makers in the area attempting to take advantage of the opportunity presented by COVID-19.
The matter in the DRC was also an extension of a pre-existing operation. The soldiers were in the DRC. The President had to sign the deployment papers to continue their operations.
Regarding the deployment of SANDF Members to the borders, this was an ongoing process. One of the primary tasks and responsibilities of the SANDF was to deploy on the borderline.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that the operation of repatriating South African citizens who had felt they needed to leave Wuhan due to the threat posed by COVID-19 had been a successful mission that had been concluded within 72 hours.
Repatriation of SA citizens
Mr S Marais (DA) thanked the SANDF for the work that had been done, and expressed his respect for those who had risked their lives.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and the SANDF team. He said they had made the Committee proud in Wuhan.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) asked if he was audible. He said something was wrong with the application. Some Members were in the meeting but could not hear proceedings, and he asked for a member of the technical team to assist with the matter.
He said that Wuhan was a job well done.
The Chairperson said he was thankful that all those involved in the Wuhan repatriation had tested negative for COVID-19. He thanked DIRCO and the DOH for their roles in the operation.
Deployment of additional SANDF members
Mr Marais supported the deployment of additional SANDF members to combat the further spread of COVID-19 fully. The role of the Defence Force needed to be supported. He said 2 820 soldiers were not enough in the circumstances. The Committee understood the need to deploy more members of the SANDF than the 10 battalions per province and the two that were deployed in Gauteng. The letter from 22 April had incorporated the increase in SANDF deployment referred to by the Minister. The country was facing extremely difficult situations, and the Defence Force had made the Members proud.
Mr W Mafanya (EFF) appreciated the presentation, but said that in light of over 2 000 reported transgressions by the SANDF, there needed to be sound monitoring mechanisms in place for the deployment. He asked for clarity on the assuredness of safeguards against abuse by the SANDF.
Mr J Maake (ANC) asked for clarification on what else the SANDF would be doing besides patrolling the streets and assisting the SAPS.
The Chairperson said that the Committee was in contact with the Presidency through Minister Mapisa-Nqakula. President Ramaphosa did not take the pandemic lightly and had left nothing to chance. A full scale war on COVID-19 was being conducted. The Committee could only support the President in this regard. The main purpose was to disrupt the transmission of COVID-19 and flatten the curve in order to save lives by avoiding overburdening the healthcare system.
Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC, Northern Cape) raised and condemned the mischievous leaking of the letters to the public without consultation with the Committee. Regarding the conduct of soldiers, he believed that it was needed to contextualise the soldiers and their actions -- it needed to be balanced with the behaviour of civilians.
The Chairperson said that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula would be put on alert about the transgressions or misconduct of the SANDF following the Committee’s conclusion of dealing with the content of the letters.
He said the leaking of the letter had disturbed him. The letter had been leaked in a Tweet to the public by Mr Steenhuisen. The matter would have to be referred to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, because the conduct was not satisfactory.
Mr Gxoyiya said that Mr Mmutle wished to speak.
Mr Mmutle said he was unsure of procedures when using the online platform.
Ms A Beukes (ANC) said she did not know how to raise her hand using the programme.
Mr Mmutle supported the additional deployment of the SANDF. He said that Mr Gxoyiya had raised an important issue which related to errors committed by officials of the Department of Defence. Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had to ensure that such errors would not occur in the near future.
He gave the example of the 22 April letter that had been leaked regarding the deployment of additional SANDF members from regular as well as reserve forces. This raised the issue of funding. He was concerned about the budget constraints facing the country.
The Chairperson asked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula to add an item on funding, in addition to deployment concerns, to be addressed.
Mr Marais wished it to be noted that in terms of additional deployment costs, the numbers of army reserves needed to be multiplied by three, as the procedure was that while one soldier would be deployed, one would be at home resting, while another would be conducting training. These needed to be considered in the numbers.
The Chairperson said the Committee would talk to these issues when they reached the relevant agenda item.
He said he would refer the matter of the leaked letter to the Speaker of the House. It was concerning that the letter had been released before the Committee had been given the opportunity to speak to the matters contained within the letter.
Mr Gxoyiya concurred with the Chairperson. The matter could not happen again.
The Chairperson asked the Members if there was any disagreement regarding referring of the matter to the Speaker. There was no disagreement.
Mozambique anti-piracy deployment
Mr Marais asked if the anti-piracy operation was indeed part of Operation Copper. South Africa had committed to Operation Copper. The soldiers needed to look out for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cells in northern Mozambique, and he wished them well in the operation.
Mr Mmutle asked whether the Mozambique Operation Copper matter, and the responsibility for securing South Africa’s borders, fell under COVID-19 matters of the Department of Defence’s responsibility. The SANDF had the power to deploy without the President’s approval. He understood that Mozambique was Operation Copper. The 200 SANDF members allocated to the operation were an extension of the deployment. The question was whether it was a separate deployment or in relation to COVID-19 developments.
The Chairperson said it was an old deployment.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula asked if Mr Mmutle needed it to be clarified with a letter being sent to the President. She said it was an extension of an existing operation.
The Chairperson said that when extensions took place, the matter would be sent before the Committee to review.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that once the deployment was outside of South Africa, the President had an obligation to inform Parliament of the matter.
The Chairperson said the Committee would move to the fourth letter under consideration which had not been included in the agenda for the meeting – the DRC deployment. The matter concerned another extension of deployment. The SANDF had 1 165 Members on the ground in the DRC, which formed part of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
It was a force intervention brigade. The letter had been sent on 22 March.
Mr Mmutle welcomed the DRC extension. There had also been issues relating to the withdrawal of Rooivalk equipment. Had this matter been resolved with the UN in relation to South Africa’s deployment in the area?
The Chairperson said the matter referred to the C-130 aircraft.
He asked whether the SANDF Members on the ground had been provided with sufficient protective equipment, given the spread of COVID-19 throughout the area.
Mr Marais supported the DRC deployment. He believed that regional deployment of South Africa’s defence forces was important. The troops in the DRC had represented South Africa extremely well.
The Chairperson said that the DRC deployment was supported by the Committee.
This took care of all the letters sent by the President to Parliament. He expressed the Committee’s support for each of them. There were good reasons why the SANDF members were on the ground in each case.
He asked whether, prior to dealing with the fifth agenda item concerning the additional deployment of 72 180 SANDF members to help the country’s COVID-19 situation, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula wished to deal with any issues other than COVID-19.
COVID-10 lockdown: SANDF deployments
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula thanked the Committee Members for their inputs. She said the presentation would comprise of a situational analysis, the legal provisos under which deployment was undertaken, and the mandate of the operation.
The aim of the presentation was to brief the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on the expanded deployment of the SANDF during the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as deal with complaints lodged regarding the alleged heavy-handedness of SANDF members.
The scope of the presentation would span:
- the current situation regarding the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa;
- the legal provisions for deployment;
- the SANDF mandate for deployment;
- the SANDF deployments;
- the effects of the SANDF deployments; and
- the Wuhan repatriation operation.
The situation in South Africa was that President Ramaphosa had declared a state of national disaster on 15 March in response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had been followed by an enforced national lockdown on 27 March in order to decrease the spread of COVID-19. The SANDF had been deployed in order to support the SAPS in enforcing the lockdown measures in accordance with the State of National Disaster Act 57 (2002).
The legal provisions for the deployment could be found in Section 27(2) of the State of National Disaster Ac, which made provision for the employment of the SANDF in order to release resources (including stores, equipment, vehicles, and facilities), as well as the release of SANDF personnel in order to render emergency services.
Legal provisions for deployment could also be found in Section 27(3) of the Act, whereby the deployment of the SANDF was done in order to assist and protect the public, provide the public with relief, protect property, prevent or combat disruptions, and deal with the destructive and/or other effects of the disaster in question.
The SANDF mandate was therefore to support the SAPS in the enforcement of lockdown regulations. It was also mandated to support and work with the DOH in order to manage COVID-19. The SANDF was also mandated to support the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) in efforts to maintain and enhance the living conditions of the population. It was mandated to ensure border safeguarding.
The SANDF had deployed elements of its regular and reserve forces in all nine of South Africa’s provinces in order to fulfil the obligation to support the national containment, mitigation, and management efforts of COVID-19. This was undertaken by means of the SANDF army soldiers, the air force, navy, military health services, military police, Defence intelligence, legal services, operational communication, chaplain services, signal communications, technical services, and finance accounting service centre deployment. These elements of the SANDF were deployed under the operational command of the Chief of Joint Operations (Joint Operations Division).
The entire SANDF had been placed on standby.
The regions where Members of the SANDF were deployed was determined by the situational analysis, and decisions of the provincial and national Joint Operations Divisions.
The activities of the deployed SANDF Members included conducting:
- joint road blocks and vehicle control points;
- joint mobile and foot patrols;
- joint cordon searches;
- medical screening;
- essential services delivery (such as water supply); and
- border safeguarding.
In terms of border safeguarding, additional border patrols would be formed comprised of the South African Army, Air Force and Navy. The Military Health Services would also provide assistance to Port Health.
The activities of the Military Health Services included the provision of medical support to the military community (including SANDF members and their dependents), the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to members of the SANDF who were deployed, as well as to those involved in patient care, conducting screening and testing measures, preparation of military hospitals’ dedicated wards with beds for isolation and quarantine of those affected by COVID-19, preparation to deploy field hospitals, and preparing to support the DOH in its efforts.
The effects of the deployments had seen the SANDF contribute massively to the enforcement of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Alleged heavy-handed response
The majority of the South African population had observed the conditions of lockdown. Some people had disobeyed lockdown conditions, which had required law enforcement bodies to force them to comply. In these processes, some members of the population had felt that their rights were being infringed upon.
The Department of Defence had observed posts on social media showing members of the SANDF not handling members of the population in an appropriate manner. These were the instances of heavy-handed behaviour that had been referred to.
One major negative incident was the death of Collins Khosa, in Alexandra, allegedly at the hands of members of the SANDF and South African law enforcement members. The Department of Defence did not condone such actions by members of the SANDF or members of South African law enforcement agencies. Investigations were ongoing in order to find the truth of the circumstances surrounding the death, as well as any other unlawful acts committed by SANDF members. Appropriate disciplinary action would be taken against any member of the SANDF found to have been in contravention of the law.
Further training interventions would be conducted for members of the SANDF who were deployed in order to address any gaps necessary to improve the conduct of the members.
The alleged acts of misconduct were not a reflection of the conduct of the SANDF, but of a small number of members of the SANDF who needed to be corrected.
The Department of Defence had observed numerous postings on social media of members of the SANDF doing good work for the communities of South Africa. They had undertaken information sharing initiatives using loudhailers, the distribution of pamphlets, as well as door-to-door engagement in order to educate the communities and promoting them into compliance.
Wuhan repatriation exercise: Operation Ditaba
The Wuhan repatriation operation had been a milestone for the SANDF. It had ventured into the unknown and returned successfully. The operation confirmed the dedication, selflessness and commitment of the members of the SANDF who had been tasked with assisting in the repatriation. The operation confirmed the country’s reliance on, and trust in, the SANDF and the Department of Defence.
Other SANDF issues
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that the Alexandra incident was in the hands of law enforcement, and was being investigated by the police, the military police and the Military Ombud. It was an unfortunate incident and concerned a human being that had died. The matter was being dealt with in the Constitutional Court and was a sub judice matter. As the Minister responsible for the Department of Defence as assigned by the President, she condemned all acts of abuse or perceptions of heavy-handedness.
She said the exponential rate of infection was projected to be going up around September 2020. The SANDF would be expected to remove and dispose of bodies in such a situation.
She said the delegates from the SANDF who were present would provide a budget breakdown.
Dr Sam Gulube, Secretary of Defence, said the SANDF’s budget had six major categories.
The first phase concerned initiating the lockdown and flattening the curve.
A general improvement of healthcare facilities throughout the country in the future following COVID-19 was envisaged.
The Chairperson said that the new budget announced by the President would take care of all the costs of the SANDF.
He asked the South African Defence Force Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Lindile Yam, and the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant-General Rudzani Maphwanya, to discuss matters arising from the enforcement of lockdown.
Lieutenant-General Yam said three additional battalions were being readied.
The SANDF was identifying areas ready to be developed into mortuaries.
Mobile ad hoc visibility was also being augmented.
Citizens were urged to comply with the SANDF, and not be forced to comply. They needed to play their part.
The Chairperson said it was clear that government had released close to all the resources available to the state.
The role of the SANDF went far beyond what people saw on the ground. He was amazed by the extent of the involvement.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said the Department of Defence had kept their legal team involved in all of what they had done. They had sought to ensure they did not exceed their mandate.
In terms of the leakage of documents, when generating deployment papers for the SANDF, they were generated by the National Joint Operations, then taken to the Chief of the SANDF. Thereafter, they were brought before the Secretary of Defence, who brought them before the Minster of Defence. These documents were then forwarded to the legal team of the Presidency, before the President signed the letters and they were forwarded to Parliament. The issue was how the leak had occurred. Because the leaked documents contained the signature of the Commander-in-Chief, they had potentially been leaked from the site of Parliament.
The Chairperson said the leaked documents had been tweeted by the Leader of the Opposition.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said she was talking in reference to the leaking of information about the SANDF.
The Chairperson said the matter had been dealt with.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that once the Speaker had received letters, the Speaker was expected to inform Members of political parties and the Chairperson(s) of the Committee.
Mr Mmutle asked how a letter addressed to the former Chairperson of the Committee had been leaked.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula referred the question to Dr Gulube.
Dr Gulube said the Office of the Presidency had made a mistake by addressing the letter to the former Chairperson of the Committee.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said the mistakes were at an end
Mr Marais referred to the Military Health Services, and asked if they were using military sick bays and clinics in bases. These would be substantial force multipliers.
Did the deployment of the standby 73 000 members of the SANDF include civilian staff under the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA)?
Of the ten battalions deployed thus far, and the numbers of staff multiplied by three in terms of readiness, what would happen in the provinces, and what did it mean for boots on the ground?
Because of the containment of movement, would there be additional deployment to land borders in addition to the 15 companies that had already been dispatched?
Regarding the trucks with food parcels being looted, was there an indication of the number of units that could be deployed to assist these trucks? This was critical, as they were providing services to the most vulnerable.
In terms of Operation Copper Mistral, what did the current deployment fall under? Was it under COVID-19, Operation Chariot, or Operation Nklela, for example?
Were reserve force members being deployed or recruited? Of the 20 000 listed, were these reserve or auxiliary members?
Mr Maake commented on what had been termed an abuse on citizens by SANDF members. He said people were being unfair when it came to the matter. People always spoke in the aftermath of something that had happened before, without consideration of the earlier context. The citizenry itself needed to be spoken about. Citizens were not supposed to be on the streets. Why were they on the streets? They were breaking the law. The issue was how the SANDF should deal with such people. Civilians were speculating. What was termed abuse by SANDF soldiers on citizens was an unfair categorisation. The SANDF were supposed to uphold the law of the Republic of South Africa. He questioned why the citizens were not facing more blame in the matter, given that they were not supposed to be out on the streets.
Commanders of the SANDF were telling the foot soldiers what to do. This was none of the citizenry’s business. They needed to stay at home so as to not have such problems. This would avoid the issue of provocation.
The Committee was not discussing robots when blaming the soldiers. Taking members of the SANDF to task was “neither here nor there”. He was not saying that SANDF members “must kick the citizens”. But this needed to be considered when discussing the issue.
Ms M Mmola (ANC, Mpumalanga) agreed with Mr Maake -- people needed to comply.
He asked if the SANDF budget of R4.5 billion would it be sufficient for all of their COVID-19 operations?
How many uniformed SANDF members had tested positive for COVID-19? Were tests available to the South African Military Health Service?
Mr Gxoyiya questioned the role of the SANDF in regard to combating disruptions. All the videos circulating on social media did not give a background context to the incidents. He appealed to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula that when she condemned the behaviour of the SANDF, the condemnation needed to be counter-balanced against the behaviour of members of the public. There were many instances where the SAPS had been attacked and had retreated. The Police Minister, Bheki Cele, had been criticised for saying that the police could not run “when they have guns in hand.”
Mr Gxoyiya said that images of alleged heavy-handedness on social media had been distributed without context of what had occurred prior to the soldiers responding to provocation. Members of the public should not be allowed to behave as they wished. He commended the good work being done by the SANDF. It was an immeasurable service to the country.
Mr Mmutle said the SANDF was conducting the implementation of regulations. The Committee had conducted oversight visits to military bases in the Western Cape which had been dilapidated. To what extent were bases around the country prepared for COVID-19? Another issue was the provision of PPE to soldiers on the ground.
Regarding the road blocks intended to prevent movement between provinces, the measures were appreciated but were insufficient. Road blocks on national roads left side roads open for travel. This was particularly the case in Gauteng. For example, the Gauteng-Mpumalanga route via the R25 was not controlled. From this route it was possible to move on into Limpopo. The SANDF needed to consider deploying smaller numbers of personnel to these roads.
Mr Mafanya congratulated the SANDF delegation on the presentation. He was disturbed by his colleagues mentioning provocation by people in relation to the army. He wished to congratulate Minister Mapisa-Nqakula when she had outlined how soldiers should behave. The reality was there were mixed messages on how the SANDF should conduct itself on the ground. This concerned how to allow people to move, and the conditions of social distancing. This was difficult to enforce during grant pay-outs, for example. The army needed to show restraint, as movement was unavoidable in some cases.
Mr Nchabeleng said he had been cut off.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng), who had joined from an earlier meeting.
The Chairperson had seen the statement by Minister Mapisa-Nqakula on the instances of alleged heavy-handedness. It called on members of the SANDF to act within the law and refrain from using the alleged excessive force. It called upon the public to adhere to measures put in place.
He said he needed to ask or remind citizens of the marching orders of the Commander-in-Chief when considering the deployment of the SANDF. These were public, and the SANDF did not need to diverge from these orders. The SANDF should not depart from the mandate and constitutional provisions under which they were deployed.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said she had tried to balance the issues in the statement. The social media posts were attempting to take advantage of people’s emotions. The Committee was aware that some footage had been taken before the SANDF had been deployed under the COVID-19 provisions,.
She said the SANDF had lost two soldiers during the COVID-19 deployment. One soldier had been knocked over by a truck that had lost its brakes. Another had been killed in a car accident when a military vehicle was chasing a vehicle of people running away from a road block. She said the Committee may have wanted to issue a statement at the end of the meeting.
On the last matter raised by Mr Marais regarding whether the SANDF was renovating facilities, they were establishing military hospitals and field hospitals in the provinces. Currently, Bloemfontein, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were the only provinces with field hospitals. The SANDF wished to establish field hospitals in all the provinces. A permanent COVID-19 legacy project was in place that had targeted certain provinces to establish long-standing operations from the military bases/hospitals, that would be conducted in response to COVID-19. These would be extended beyond COVID-19 with renovations and infrastructure upgrades in mind. The budget that had been allocated to the SANDF was not necessarily enough, as the SANDF had tried not to be extravagant in their projections. It had accounted for all areas where the SANDF had to operate. It had been agreed amongst the Department of Defence and the SANDF hierarchy that money left over from the COVID-19 budget would be sent back to National Treasury. They hoped to spend it according to the plans that had been sent to the Treasury.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said she had made a mistake earlier, saying that KwaZulu-Natal had a military hospital. This was not the case – it was in the Western Cape.
Gen Maphwanya, Chief of Joint Operations, addressed the question of whether sick bays at military bases could be used as COVID-19 facilities.
On the question of numbers of boots on the ground, numbers would be determined situationally. The situation was fluid.
On the matter of movement between provinces, the SANDF would not be able to expand its operations. It could be done only with the support of citizens. Regarding physical inspections on the ground, there were people on motorbikes on foot paths. Those determined to cheat the system would cheat and die. The SANDF could not be everywhere.
He said that “while we are being provoked, law enforcement will not allow anyone to insult the President.” The SANDF had been formed on 27 April 1994. Whilst being provoked, law enforcement agencies carrying the flag would not allow anyone to insult the President, and they would respond. The institution was prepared to lay down lives for the country and the constitution.
The Chairperson said that before handing over to Lieutenant-General Yam, the delegation had omitted to address whether there would be additional deployment to beef up the 14 companies of soldiers on the border.
Gen Maphwanya said the SANDF had bolstered COVID-19 forces, as this also concerned the borders. It was a new operation and involved the closure of different ports of entry. Possibilities were high for illegal border crossings, and it was for this reason that the additional measures were being put in place seeking to avoid the further importation of COVID-19. The SANDF was making use of additional measures such as air support in order to contain the borders.
General Yam, SANDF Chief of Staff, said the state was an instrument of government to ensure law and order was enforced. Parliament was not the SANDF’s client – the SANDF was not the SAPS. The SANDF took instructions from the Commander-in-Chief, President Ramaphosa. Parliament developed policies, the President gave instructions, and the SANDF executed them.
The Military Police had been tasked to investigate the leaks.
Sanitisers had not been paid for yet -- they were still in laboratories. Delivery had taken place, but payment had not. Only now would payments be made and the sanitisers distributed to the SANDF.
He was delighted by Mr Marais’ mentioning Operation Copper. Mozambique was in its current state because the military had not been looked after. The issue of secure borders with Mozambique had been considered in light of the ongoing COVID-19 measures. Mozambique could not be ignored.
On the matter of auxiliaries, the numbers included civilians. Some members were above the 65 years of age usually stipulated for reserve forces. The SANDF had also called on all professionals, such as civil engineers, doctors and nurses, to assist in auxiliary operations.
Gen Yam said that members of the SANDF were hardened and saw things at a young age that most citizens would not see during their lifetimes. This needed to be considered in light of the provocation SANDF members faced, and the alleged heavy-handed conduct.
The state was an instrument of government to ensure law and order. The country had to be protected. The security of the country would lead to stability in the country.
Dr Gulube thought it would be important to inform the Committee that medical records of military personnel were not a matter for public consumption. If the Committee wanted to hear the details in a closed session, it would be possible to arrange this.
Mr Mmutle said the Committee had not been aware of the two soldiers who had passed away. He suggested sending condolences to the families of the soldiers who had fallen in the line of duty.
He said the Committee also needed to support Gen Yam and Gen Maphwanya, and convey the message to the troops that the Committee was in support of enforcing regulations and ensuring that the SANDF lived up to the mandate given by the Commander-in-Chief in order to save lives. Despite all the challenges the SANDF faced on the ground, the Committee was fully behind the SANDF in waging the fight and defeating COVID-19.
The Chairperson agreed to convey the Committee’s condolences to the families.
He said the Committee wished to commend the SANDF for a job well done under the current conditions. It was not easy -- even unprecedented. He thanked the leadership of the country for the low numbers of those affected by the disease and the small numbers of those who had died. If not for their actions, the situation would be far worse. He thanked the leadership of the army for acting in the manner they had done, and commended their work.
The Committee would follow up when incidents of army misconduct emerged. The issues would be raised sharply so that no one could give the SANDF a bad name. Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had done very well in coming out in public to assure the people that the army had been deployed to save lives.
Mr Marais said two issues had not been picked up in the responses. One was the loss of a C-130 in Goma in the DRC. Was there another C-130 available and operational? Otherwise, this would put pressure on the logistics and capabilities of the air force.
Regarding the nine technical commanders stationed in provinces, would lieutenants be replaced by other officials?
The Chairperson asked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula to respond in writing. The Committee was running out of time. She had committed that the C-130 issue would be returned to in writing, as well as the provincial matters.
The Minister said the cases the Military Ombud was supposed to report on were cases related to COVID-19, but she had not received any report from the Ombud’s office in relation to COVID-19.
The Chairperson asked General Masondo, the Military Ombud, to proceed with the presentation.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula asked General Masondo to furnish her office with reports once the presentation had been concluded. As far as she knew, none of the COVID-19 cases of misconduct had been concluded. She was not sure whether it was fair to expect a briefing at this point. However, if Gen Masondo wished to report, he could do so.
The Chairperson said the Committee was not expecting results of cases, simply the number of cases that had been received and overviews of the situation and progress made, for example.
Military Ombud on alleged heavy-handed approach by SANDF members
Gen Masondo thanked the Committee for the opportunity to account for how the Office had been operating during the lockdown. In light of the anticipation that the physical office would be inaccessible during the lockdown on 26 March, arrangements had been made to work from home.
The Office had been sure to provide indications of how members of the public could make contact with it during this time. It was also mandated to respond to contact from current and former members of the SANDF. The office could be contacted via email and social media.
Since commencement of the lockdown to date, 33 complaints had been received. It was important to note that on average, the Office received about 30 complaints a month. The majority of these ‘normal circumstance’ cases reviewed were from members and former members of the SANDF about the conditions of service.
An outreach programme had focused on members and former members of the SANDF to make them aware of the Office. Since its opening in 2012, 127 complaints from members of the public had been received. This was excluding 20 complaints from the public received during the lockdown. Only 23 of the 127 complaints were about the conduct of the SANDF since the inception of the Office.
The Chairperson asked Gen Masondo to provide details of the complaints during the lockdown period.
Gen Masondo said the Office had received 23 complaints from the public, 12 from the SANDF, and one unconfirmed. Some complaints received were simply video clips of alleged abuse. These lacked further information of where, who, and when the case took place. The Ombud had gone back to the people who had submitted such evidence to get assistance in finding more information. Out of the 33 complaints received, five had been anonymous and could not be followed up.
Eight members of the public had been assisted by Mr Marais to lodge complaints. On 29 March, Mr Marais had submitted several complaints personally, in addition to those people he had assisted to make claims.
During lockdown, Gen Masondo had conducted seven interviews with radios where he had been questioned and informed members of the public on how to reach the Office during lockdown.
Investigations had not reached a level to provide recommendations on actions to the Minister at the current stage. The main difficulty to take forward was the incomplete information the Office was being provided. It was in the process of sourcing the information more effectively.
Apart from the 33 letters of complaint, three letters of commendation from the public had been received. These pertained to soldiers assisting the elderly, for example. The majority of SANDF members were doing a good job.
Mr Marais said General Masondo had responded very well. He had confidence in the Ombud and Minister Mapisa-Nqakula. They had assured him that the Committee and country were well led, and citizens did not have to fear the SANDF.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng said there seemed to be a lack of action taken against misinformation peddlers creating unnecessary tensions and fear between citizens and the SANDF.
He expressed his respects to the soldiers who had died while on duty.
The Chairperson said that there had been comments on action being contemplated against those who misled the public on misconduct matters.
Mr Mmutle said that the investigations had not been concluded. It should be ensure that the Ombud was able to take interviews, and that this was known by communities should they need to report cases.
Gen Yam referred to the C-130, and said it affected the mobility and transport of PPEs. An Assessment of the fluidity of serviceability was contingent on the availability of funds. Two C-130s had been available two weeks prior to the meeting. Their immediate serviceability was unconfirmed.
The Chairperson thanked Gen Masondo. He said there was a reason why the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and the Military Ombud had been created. It was known there would be times when there were excesses in the police and defence forces. The positions had been created to monitor conduct, to maintain the good names of the institutions.
The Chairperson asked for Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s concluding words.
Minister’s concluding remarks
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula thanked the Committee Members for raising the questions they had. It was important to be called upon to account. It helped her Department function better. She thanked the Members for keeping in touch with her outside of meetings. She apologised for not always being able to respond to their concerns immediately due to time constraints, but committed to doing so nonetheless and said they were appreciated in spite of this.
The Chairperson requested the Minister to make the numbers of SANDF members employed in each province available to the Committee once these had been finalised.
The Minister said this would be made available to circulate to Members.
The previous day, the Chief of the SANDF had indicated that at every provincial structure, Brigadier-Generals would be deployed so that feedback to head offices would be quicker. This would enable better management of soldiers on the ground through tighter controls.
She also said a list of provincial committees would be made available to the Committee Members so that they could call directly their provincial representatives.
The Chairperson said the last matter was that the presentation made by Dr Gulube had not been made available. He asked that it be made available to the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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