The Joint Standing Committee on Defence met on a virtual platform for a briefing by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, the Chief of the National Defence Force and the Chief of Joint Operations, on the
South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment to prevent and combat crime and an update on the security situation in the country.
The President had written to Parliament on 16 July informing Members of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces of the deployment of the SANDF for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service (SAPS), at a cost of R615 million. 25 000 members of the SANDF were to be deployed in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces from 12 July to 12 August to deal with the unrest taking place. The matter had been referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence for consideration.
The Minister informed the Committee that people were making reference to insurgency, insurrection, a coup, etc, but the point was that if it were an insurrection against the government, the insurrection should have a face. If it were a coup, the coup had to have a face. However, there was no face. Government was seeing signs of a counter-revolution creeping in, in the form of thuggery and criminality. It was an unfortunate situation, but with the plan that the generals of the SANDF had put in place, the Minister was optimistic that the country would overcome it. The majority of South Africans were not in support of the hooliganism which had occurred in the past few days. The democratic state was under threat by counter-revolutionaries, by those who wanted to undermine the democratic state -- those people were testing the capacity of the state. Members of the Committee and the SANDF should have an engagement about what had happened and why people had looted and then come back to destroy infrastructure, as well as clinics and hospitals. It was an attack on South Africa and the democratic state, and therefore a counter-revolution.
The Minister provided an update on the deployment of troops to Mozambique. The summit of the Heads of State of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had given a mandate for troops to be deployed. However, even as countries had started preparing with meetings of heads of defence forces and Ministers, Mozambique had not signed the Status of Forces Agreement. That would mean putting the lives of the forces in danger. After an engagement between South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, the Agreement had been signed on 14 July. The form of engagement was to be a rapid deployment force: move in, identify the challenge and open the way for a SADC force, if required. However, if there was stability in the region, there would be no need for a full force. There were no boots currently on the ground, but South Africa had made certain pledges.
Members expressed concern about the funds to pay for the operation in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, as the Defence Force was already under enormous budgetary constraints. While at least one Member supported the Minister’s interpretation of events, several Members raised concerns that Members of the Executive had interpreted the nature of the threat differently, and requested further details in a future meeting. They asked if there was any truth in the belief that the previous week had seen the first phase, and a withdrawal would be followed by another attack
The Chief of the SANDF stated that on 22h00 on 11 July, he had given an order to the Chief of Joint Operations to deploy SANDF structure elements in cooperation with the SAPS, to support the police in maintaining law and order and to bring stability in response to the widespread riotous behaviour, looting and destruction taking place in various places in the country. On 12 July, at around 11h00, the first elements had been deployed to Pietermaritzburg, Pongola and Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal, and that afternoon to Gauteng.
The initial approach had been to deploy in order to protect national key points, government buildings, facilities/areas of critical economic impact and to relieve the SAPS so the police could increase its capacity in the law enforcement response to the riots. Ultimately, the situation required military deployment to the malls and other infrastructure under attack in the community areas and cities.
Members asked if only certain key points, refineries, oxygen companies, etc. were to be guarded, or whether all such sites would be guarded. Was the strategic pipeline from Durban to Johannesburg to be fully guarded? What about the rural areas? Replenishments would have to come from farms, so would those routes be guarded? Was the N3 highway considered a national key point? Mooi River was at the forefront of any violent action, so what was being done to protect the Mooi River Toll Plaza to make sure that it did not become an easy target for anyone who wanted to carry out violent actions?
Members asked whether the deployment was limited to boots and vehicles on the ground, or whether use would be made of air capability in KwaZulu-Natal. What information was the Defence Intelligence getting, specifically post-deployment? Why were more soldiers deployed in Gauteng than in KwaZulu-Natal, where fewer than 5 000 were deployed, despite KwaZulu-Natal being the hotspot?
They questioned why, when municipalities had similar experiences of unrest, where infrastructure and municipal building were destroyed, the SANDF was not deployed, but when private businesses and malls were attacked, the Defence Force was brought in. Why was the same attention not given to similar unrest in black areas? Were community policing forums, private security and armed civilians assisting the professionals? How did one know that the people carrying assault weapons had not become part of the irritation to the masses?
Members of the Committee were informed of an oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that would take place the following Tuesday and Wednesday. The visit would include meetings with SAPS and the SANDF, including a closed meeting with the SANDF, and visits to areas hardest hit by the recent events which had been secured by the Defence Force.
Co-Chairperson Xaba welcomed the Members of the Committee, and explained that the meeting was a follow-up to the meeting of the previous week where the President had written to the Committee and to Parliament to state that 25 000 members of the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) were to be employed in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng provinces to deal with the unrest taking place. The Joint Committee was to address the matter.
The intention had been to meet within two to three days of the previous meeting. The Chairperson recognised that it was now four days after the meeting, for which he apologised, but suggested that it was fairly soon after the previous meeting and that the Committee could discuss the roll-out plan for the employment, or deployment, of 25 000 members of the SANDF.
Co-Chairperson Xaba added an item to the agenda: an oversight visit to several affected areas in the two provinces of KZN and Gauteng on Tuesday and Wednesday, 21 and 22 July 2021.
Mr S Marais (DA) requested a briefing on the engagement in Mozambique. He said that he had read in the media that the agreement had been signed. He then proposed the adoption of the agenda.
Co-Chairperson Xaba agreed to request the Head of Joint Staff to report on the situation, but he was not permitting a discussion on the topic as Members did not have the relevant papers before them. Nothing stopped the Committee requesting a report, and he would request a fully documented briefing on the matter.
The Committee Secretary noted that Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, had sent apologies as she was involved in a Cabinet meeting in Durban. However, she had since indicated that she would try to log in.
As he waited for the presenter, the Chairperson encouraged everyone who was part of a meeting, especially if the person was presenting an item, to log in 10 minutes before the commencement of the meeting to avoid any delay.
General Rudzani Maphwanya, Chief of the SANDF, was observed to be in attendance and was invited to speak to the Committee while Members were waiting for General Siphiwe Sangweni, Chief: Joint Operations Division of the SANDF, who was having difficulties in logging in to the online meeting.
General Maphwanya informed the Chairperson that he was not presenting the report, but had joined the meeting to show his respect for the oversight role played by the Committee. He was attending even though he had not been invited.
Co-Chairperson Xaba noted that it was General Maphwanya’s first meeting in his role as Chief of the SANDF, so he invited him to make a few remarks.
General Maphwanya felt honoured that the Committee had invited the SANDF to give an update on the events taking place in the country. The SANDF would provide personnel to support the SA Police Service (SAPS) in the face of the turmoil and hooliganism as well as the criminality that was plaguing the country. It had prepared the employment papers and was on the verge of mobilising the total number, as required. He would leavw the details to his colleague to share with the Committee.
General Maphwanya said he was not going to make the opening remarks, which was to have been the prerogative of the Minister, as the Committee was a political forum. Unlike General Holomisa, who was a politician, he knew his terrain. His terrain lay in the battlefield and he would allow General Holomisa to defend the SANDF in the political sphere, as he understood the Defence Force’s predicament. He asked that the Committee bear with him when he said that he was encroaching on the Minister’s terrain.
He said that one needed to look at oversight, because if too much detailed was revealed, it would put the Defence Force troops at risk. There had to be a balance with oversight. He suggested that the SANDF provide elements of what it was going to do without providing details of where the troops were, what weaponry they were carrying, where they were going and exactly what they would be doing, because that compromised operational security. If such information was necessary, it could be provided in a closed meeting.
Dr B Holomisa (UDM) concurred with General Maphwanya, especially in respect of revealing details in open meetings. Noting that the Committee must have gone through the powers of the Defence Force at its meeting on 14 July 2021, he suggested the Committee should not go through that again, but go straight to the current problem and hear from the SANDF about its threat analysis. Were they involved in urban warfare, was it an insurgent threat, or might it go to a conventional threat? He was worried about some of the big gangs. The necessary equipment should be available, but he knew that the Committee had repeatedly asked for funds to equip the Defence Force.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng noted that the Committee was meeting General Maphwanya for the first time in his role as Chief of the SANDF. He congratulated him on his appointment, saying that he felt very safe with Gen Maphwanya at the head, knowing that SA’s democracy would never be lost under his watch. The Committee was fully behind the SANDF; it was the pride of the Committee and the last line of defence. The Committee would be alive to the General’s requests in terms of details that could and could not be exposed in an open meeting. Members of the Committee would be sensitive in terms of the questions that they asked.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) wished to congratulate General Maphwanya on his appointment, and felt sure that the Committee would go a long way in working with the General. He recalled that the Committee had a challenge in getting the previous General to appear before the Committee. That the General had presented himself voluntarily before the Committee gave him hope. He hoped that General Maphwanya would drop everything and appear before the Committee when it required clarity on an issue.
Mr Marais took great pleasure in congratulating and welcoming the new Chief of the Defence Force, who had set the bar quite high. He believed that the General had seen over the past week how unified and bi-partisan the Joint Standing Committee was. All Members were there to offer their full support to the Defence Force and to South African citizens. He wished General Maphwanya well, adding that all Members were sensitive to information being disseminated in an open meeting, but the Committee was meeting again on Tuesday 21 July in Durban, so sensitive information could be shared with the Members in that setting.
Co-Chairperson Xaba appreciated the fact that the General subjected himself to Parliament and to civilian authority. He thanked the General for accepting the appointment and thanked the Minister and President for making such a good selection for the Head of the Defence Force.
He welcomed the Minister to the meeting, and, recognising that she was double-booked, invited her to immediately make a few opening remarks before the Committee attended to the presentation. He officially invited Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to officially present the letters from the President.
Briefing by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she was the signatory of the letter written to Parliament about the strength of the SANDF, its deployment and the cost of the deployment.
She wished to begin by responding to the question posed by General Holomisa regarding what it was that they were dealing with. Her view was that it was none of the instances that General Holomisa had cited, such as insurgency, conventional warfare, etc -- it was none of those. People had made reference to an insurrection, coup, etc. The point was that if it were an insurrection against the government, the insurrection should have a face. If it were a coup, the coup had to have a face. But there was no face.
They were seeing signs of a counter-revolution that was creeping in, in the form of thuggery and criminality. It was an unfortunate situation, but with the plan that the generals had put in place, she was optimistic that the country would overcome the whole matter. She was optimistic that South Africans -- even those who had participated in the activity -- regretted the actions. The majority of South Africans were not in support of the hooliganism which had occurred in the past few days. If anything, it had a great potential to unite SA as a nation against those who wanted to challenge the democratic state. The democratic state was under threat by counter-revolutionaries, by those who wanted to undermine the democratic state. If it rose its head again, it would have to be hit very hard by the police, supported by the SANDF. If it were allowed, they would try to get away with it. It was her view that those people were testing the capacity of the state.
She agreed that the deployment might not have been as quick as people would have wanted it to be, but what was comforting was that when it happened, South Africans had wanted it and it had been successful. She had always said that the SANDF served as a deterrent, which it had been in that case.
Regarding the numbers, she explained that when first asked if the SANDF was to be deployed, she had not seen, at that time, why the SANDF should be deployed. That was probably hours after the eruption and thereafter -- when she saw the need and the Intelligence had advised it, and the President had wanted to deploy the SANDF -- the figure of 2 500 had been given, because it had appeared that the disruption was localised in certain areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Later on, there had been an interaction with the heads of political parties, and by then the President had decided to go up to 10 000, but the heads of political parties recommended 75 000. Another conversation was held with the Commander-in-Chief, and the final figure reached was midway between the 10 000 proposed by the President and the 75 000, so 25 000 was decided upon.
The letter submitted to Parliament, i.e. the Speaker and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), stated 25 000 members would be on the ground. The last report said that the SANDF had a footprint in all of the provinces, except in the Northern Cape.
Co-Chairperson Xaba invited Members to engage with the Minister’s remarks, as she had to depart for two further meetings that evening.
Mr Marais said that he supported the Minister in what she had said, and did not think that Members wanted to jump the gun, so if the Joint Chief of Operations would provide information on the breakdown, that would be fine. He understood the sensitivities, but trusted that when in Durban on 20 July, the Committee would be entrusted with more information. There were so many rumours going around, and the "Rambos" of the world would take any chance, but the Joint Standing Committee was unified in backing the intervention. How the 25 000 were to be deployed was of critical importance, especially considering protection of the fuel pipeline and the agricultural sector, which had to get food back into the shops and provide milk for babies. Livelihoods had to be addressed.
Ms M Modise (ANC) said that her preoccupation was around the budget, as the budget had declined every year and the SANDF was under extremely tight constraints. What impact did the deployment of 25 000 troops on the ground have on the budget? And if provision had been made, where was the money coming from? Had there been an engagement with National Treasury, or was the current budget being utilised?
She added that the Committee needed to constantly monitor the operation and the movement of the troops on the ground. They should not be kept on the streets unnecessarily guarding malls and roaming around as if they were security guards, lest citizens got comfortable with the brown uniform and the boots on the street and ended up losing the respect that soldiers actually enjoyed. There had to be a proper analysis and the forces had to be strategically deployed and not be kept in the streets for longer periods than necessary.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) congratulated Gen Maphwanya on his appointment. He had attended the inauguration. He raised the issue of having soldiers deployed across the country for a month, costing the country R600 million. From previous encounters with the Minister and the Department, the Committee knew that the budget had been cut to the bone. He concurred with Ms Modise. The Members all knew that there was no additional money.
He added that the reality was, as the Minister had said, there was no insurgency and no intention to overthrow the government. The Minister was quite clear that it was simply thuggery and criminality that had taken place. If the origin of the events had been identified, what was the need to plan ahead in regard to issues that should be dealt with by the police? Members were well aware that the police had failed the country -- their response had been bad, and that was why the SANDF had been requested to intervene. However, the police had to put their plans in place. The mandate of the SANDF was to support the police.
He said that the SANDF did not want to find itself fighting its own people. The criminals and looters were South Africans. Wherever criminality took place, the police had to be in charge. The assistance of the SANDF had to have limits. It could not be that eventually there were cases where communities began to square up against the soldiers. A defence force had never defeated the people. In Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Sudan, internal strife and poverty had resulted in uprisings, but bullets could not work against poor people. It was in that regard that the Minister was careful about how things were dealt with, and would understand that the soldiers had to go back to the barracks.
Mr M Shelembe (DA) said he understood that the first 2 500 troops would be deployed from 12 July to 12 August 2021. Were the 25 000 troops being deployed from 12 July to 12 October? He was unclear -- perhaps it was the other way around, and it was the 25 000 that were employed until 12 August and the 2 500 to 12 October. He requested clarity.
Dr Holomisa thanked the Minister for her response, but the Committee needed confirmation that the initiative was no longer with the people that she described as counter-revolutionaries, but with the security forces. He was looking forward to a closed session where she could tell the Committee exactly the mission and the objectives of the people that she called counter-revolutionaries.
Co-Chairperson Xaba invited the Minister to respond.
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula responded to the first question about the length of deployment. She explained that the last letter sent to Parliament had indicated that the full force of 25 000 SANDF members were being deployed from 12 July to 12 August 2021. It was not a very lengthy deployment.
The second matter raised had been the issue of finance. Everyone knew, and had alluded to the fact, that the Defence Force needed more resources. However, when the country was locked into the destruction of infrastructure as seen in the past week, there had been no choice and the President had deployed the troops. She imagined that even as the President deployed troops as the Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces, at the back of his mind he would know that the SANDF had financial challenges and therefore there would have been some engagement with the Minister of Finance as to how to assist with the challenges going forward. She was simply making that assumption, as it had not been a time to count pennies and cents, but a time to move ahead in a very speedy manner. The Minister commended the generals for doing so well under very difficult circumstances.
The Minister said it was not the first time that there had been massive deployment. There had been a massive deployment for the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but the President had given between five and seven days’ notice prior to the deployment. It had therefore been easy to mobilise resources, including human resources and other capabilities. This time, events had driven the situation and as the events had developed, it had become clear that there was no time for luxury and people had to move. So, for the first time, she had conducted an observation of the vehicles that the General had referred to earlier on, and could say that the way in which the Defence Force had prepared itself was suitable to conventional warfare. The vehicles were all parked in a centralised area in preparation for conventional warfare. However, when events happened as speedily as they had, the Defence Force had to move with speed, so one of the things that had been learnt during the current period was that nothing could be taken for granted. Situations changed. There would be uprisings and not always conventional warfare, so resources had to be quickly mobilised.
She addressed the matter raised by General Holomisa -- the nature of the threat that they were dealing with. She had to say that it was her analysis. It was her understanding that a coup had to have a face. The General would understand that better than she. If it were an insurrection, there would be leaders who would be open about it being an insurrection. The challenge was that there were serious socio-economic issues in the country -- there was a high rate of unemployment, and there was poverty in the country.
However, all of those things could never justify the kind of actions that took place in the past few days. People had looted and then gone back after a day or two to destroy the infrastructure by burning it down. That was a strange phenomenon. The other strange phenomenon was that on the second or third day, people started attacking clinics and hospitals. If one attacked clinics and hospitals, where would one take people who were injured?
During the apartheid days, when the youth of SA was fighting, there was never any destruction of clinics and hospitals. The Minister was happy to have a conversation about the situation, but one also had to get analysts from State Security and Defence Intelligence who could help them define the situation, even if it was criminality.
Finally, the Minister said she had received a message that afternoon that traffic was not flowing on the N3. She wished to assure the Committee that the N3 had been opened the previous day, and members of the Defence Force were located in hotspots. She knew that, because she had been receiving regular reports. It was important to open the N3 because it was a trade route, so there was a deployment of troops along it. Members of the Committee and the SANDF should have an engagement about what had happened and why people had looted and then come back to destroy infrastructure, and then clinics and hospitals. It was an attack on SA and the democratic state, and therefore a counter-revolution.
All South Africans had to solve the problem, as bullets would not solve the problem. It was not the job of the ruling party to solve the problem. Every political party had to be involved.
Mr Marais asked the Minister if there was any truth in the belief that the previous week had seen the first phase, and the withdrawal would be followed by another attack.
The Minister replied that she could not comment, as she had been trained in guerrilla warfare. The Generals might be able to answer that question. However, she admitted that she was very worried that the need to account would compromise the security of the forces. When Parliament was told that 25 000 were being deployed, people wanted to know exactly how many were at particular places. She appealed to the Committee to educate the public, because it was the first time in a democratic state that the SANDF had been confronted with that kind of situation. She was experiencing anxiety that people would raise the questions without appreciating that the answers could compromise the safety of the security forces.
She reiterated that it was the responsibility of all political parties to address South Africans, because there was no coup or insurrection. It was just a counter-revolution which was beginning to sow the seeds of division in the country.
Co-Chairperson Xaba thanked the Minister. He assured Members that very soon everyone would know who was behind the mobilisation of the unrest that had taken place. The Committee was waiting to be told who had brought the country into disrepute and shame, and to a point where no investor would want to invest in the townships.
Mr Marais asked if the Minister could share anything about the soldiers in Mozambique, and whether there had been an agreement.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula agreed to respond briefly to the question. When the issue in the country had arisen, she had been invited to an interview on the developments relating to Mozambique. The summit of the Heads of State of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had given a mandate for deployment. Countries had started preparing with meetings of the heads of their defence forces and ministers, but until two days before15 July, Mozambique had not signed the Status of Forces Agreement. That would mean putting the lives of the forces in danger. After engagement between SA, Botswana and Mozambique, the Agreement had been signed on 14 July. The form of engagement was to be a rapid deployment force: move in, identify the challenge and open the way for a SADC force, if required. However, if there was stability in the region, there would not need to be a full force. There were no boots on the ground, but SA had made certain pledges.
Chief of Joint Operations: briefing on Operation Prosper
Gen. Siphiwe Sangweni presented a brief overview of Operation Prosper, the joint operation with the SAPS.
At 22h00 on 11 July, the Chief of the SANDF had given an order to the Chief of Joint Ops to deploy SANDF structure elements in cooperation with the SAPS to support the police in maintaining law and order and to bring stability in response to the widespread riotous behaviour, looting and destruction taking place in various places in the country. On 12 July, at around 11h00, the first elements were deployed to Pietermaritzburg, Pongola and Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal, and that afternoon to Gauteng.
The initial approach was to deploy to protect national key points, government buildings, facilities/areas of critical economic impact, and to relieve the SAPS so the police could increase capacity in the law enforcement response to the riots. Ultimately, the situation required military deployment to the malls and other infrastructure under attack in the community areas and cities.
The number of personnel was escalated from 2 500 to 10 00, and ultimately to 25 000, with 6 993 members in Gauteng and 4 947 members in KwaZulu-Natal by 10h00 on 18 July. Points of protection included harbours and airports, fuel refineries, ESKOM power generating plants, the Union Buildings and Parliament.
SANDF was also to guard and protect the road freight industry, conduct foot and vehicle patrols, man vehicle control points and roadblocks, and enforce disaster management act regulations.
Mr Marais appreciated the presentation, and assured Gen Sangweni of the support of Members. He believed all party leaders had raised the issue of the lack of resources, which had been well received by the President.
He asked about the curfew, as he received many reports of people driving around at night, some claiming to be security firms. If the curfew were enforced, it would keep the thugs off the street.
He said his questions would be based on the presentation, but alternative plans could be made if the responses were of a sensitive nature. His question regarding the phases of attack referred to the insurgents or whoever it was attacking the democracy of the country. It was said that they had completed phase one and were preparing for a phase two attack. Was the SANDF aware of such plans?
Regarding the sensitive sites that were to be guarded, such as the refineries and oxygen factories, Mr Marais asked if certain key sites, such as refineries, were to be guarded or whether it would be all such sites. Regarding the strategic pipeline from Durban to Johannesburg, was that to be fully guarded? What about the rural areas? Replenishments would have to come from farms, etc. Would those routes be guarded?
He asked whether the deployment was limited to boots and vehicles on the ground, or whether use would be made of the air capability in KwaZulu-Natal. He requested that communication and intel was used proactively to protect the N3 and the N2 routes.
As far as the numbers were concerned, it seemed that there were only about 12 000 troops in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. He understood that there was a company or two in other provinces, except the Northern Cape. Where were the other troops, or did the figures show on-duty forces and not off-duty forces?
Mr Marais assumed that when the Committee was on site on 20 and 21 July, the Members would be much more informed, but he needed to know how the command structure was working and how the SANDF was fitting into that. He also knew that distribution sites needed to be protected, but were there any specific plans? What were the plans for keeping looters out of the neighbourhoods? There had to be boots on the ground, be they SANDF or SAPS, to ensure that people could go to their places of work safely from the following day.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) thanked the General for the presentation, which had provided insights. Contrary to what Gen Sangweni had noted about how slowly people thought the SANDF had responded, he could say that those who understood the situation, believed that the SANDF had responded very quickly and very well in terms of the instructions that they had received. The complaints were actually about the numbers that were initially suggested for deployment. Videos showed communities welcoming the SANDF, and it should be congratulated for that. The speed was exemplary.
Mr Ryder’s first question related to intelligence. The Minister had, at the previous meeting, admitted that intelligence had let the country down. What information was the Defence Intelligence getting, specifically now post-deployment. The Insurgency Unit should be providing information. Perhaps he could provide insight into that.
He explained that, when he had talked about phases of deployment, Mr Marais had been talking about phases of the onslaught. Apparently in phases two and three of the attack, numerous key points would be attacked. Word on the street was that certain key supply lines, supply areas and key points would be attacked in phase two. What was Defence Intelligence telling them at that stage? Was there anything the SANDF could share with the Committee?
Mr Ryder was surprised that more soldiers were deployed in Gauteng than in KwaZulu-Natal, where fewer than 5 000 had been deployed. He found that alarming, as KwaZulu-Natal had been the hotspot. The greatest need for soldiers was in KwaZulu-Natal. Why was that? Did the deployment numbers include those deployed to the N3 highway? He would accept it if some answers had to be held back until the site visits, but he would prefer answers as soon as possible.
Mr Mmutle welcomed the presentation. He had seen that members of SAPS were deployed in various malls that had faced attack. Soldiers were meant to support them in that activity, as indicated in the presentation. In the previous meeting, the Minister had been sceptical about soldiers going to malls, as those were private property and they normally had their own security. He understood that the government had to ensure that it was possible for businesses to operate to support the economy, but one had to question what impact it would have for government.
For example, municipalities often had similar experiences of unrest where infrastructure and municipal buildings were destroyed and the SANDF was not deployed. Government had to be consistent in protecting government property and private property. Otherwise, going forward, it would be said that when attacks on the democratic state occurred, troops were sent in but when it was local government, at the coalface of delivery, troops were not sent in because the leadership at that level did not have the authority to deploy the SANDF to protect themselves from unrest and challenges to their leadership. That was something that had to be looked at to ensure consistency, and that while individuals had the right to protest, that protest could not destroy infrastructure or exhibit violent behaviour.
Mr Mutle wanted clarity about how the soldiers had been deployed to support SAPS officers in defending malls.
Mr Shelembe shared Mr Ryder’s concern about the number of troops deployed to KwaZulu-Natal as opposed to the number deployed in Gauteng. He understood that the unrest had started in KwaZulu-Natal and huge damage had been done there, but the majority of troops had been sent to Gauteng.
Mr Shelembe also noted that some people had been fortunate to obtain information beforehand. Could there not be a way of sharing information that SAPS or SANDF had about people organising themselves to go and loot? For example, in Escourt, people had shared information with the police as soon as they received the information. Was there any mechanism for people to share such information without making themselves known?
He pointed out that people could come together and protect malls or other urban sites, but on farms the communities were widespread. Was there any plan to protect those farms? He commented that people were already going out to the farms and stealing and killing animals. Was there any plan, in conjunction with SAPS, to defend rural people and areas? It was well known that Mooi River was at the forefront of any violent action, so what was being done to protect Mooi River Toll Plaza, to make sure that it did not become an easy target for anyone who wanted to carry out violent actions?
Mr Shelembe was aware of WhatsApp messages being circulated that promoted an attack on Escourt, as it was where the former President was being imprisoned. Was anything being done to ensure that such attacks could not happen, because at a later stage people would be able to say that they had advised the authorities? The first blockage of the road had been about 500m from the prison of Escourt. He was checking that the SANDF was aware of the situation.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng advised that he had been cut off. He had just been advised that a relative had passed away. He was worried about the number of automatic assault rifles that were being bandied around in public, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It gave him sleepless nights to know that civilians had arms of war. Civilians with automatic weapons could be a danger to themselves. Was anything being done to collect those weapons?
When the President had called for joint operations between the SAPS and the army, it was not because another wing was failing to do its work; it was because the job was so vast and dangerous that they had to support one another. If one looked at the number of areas affected and the extent of the damage, one could not argue about joint operations. One had to put an end to wanton mayhem and theft.
Mr W Mafanya (EFF) understood that the operations were based on intelligence reports from both the army and the police. The paranoia that the whole country was under siege and that there were further phases to come, could be addressed only by an intelligence report. There were reports from the media, individuals, politicians, etc., but that did not help the Committee, as each one saw things from his or her own perspective. The Committee had to work on facts given by the Minister and the Department. If they believed rumours that everything was out of the control of the police, it would lead the Committee astray. There were various groups such as the Community Policing Fora, private security and armed civilians assisting the professionals, i.e. the police. However, one did not know if the weapons that they were carrying were licensed or that they had even ended up killing the looters. How did one navigate such a situation? There were people carrying assault weapons -- how would one know that they did not become part of the irritation to the masses?
Mr Mafanya referred to the report that a million rounds of ammunition had gone missing. That was definitely in the wrong hands, because no one was licensed to carry such ammunition. It was the duty of the police, with the help of the SANDF, to ensure that the ammunition was returned. The intelligence report should have that information. He asked the General to take the Committee into his confidence, as Members needed to know that things were in order or else they would believe that there was a war coming. The minute ordinary citizens were told that there were a million bullets missing, they would prepare for war. Those who did not have arms would go for illegal arms, because everyone wanted to protect his or her life.
He needed the General to assure him that the country was in safe hands. The trigger was the clash between the leaders and, in particular, the incarceration of the former President. Further than that, it was an opportunistic moment for looting. The only difference was that it had become bigger, but in all protests, mainly in black areas, such actions were encountered all the time. It was ironic, because in this case people had died. That happened all the time in black areas, and they did not get similar attention. In the latest instance, the people had gone to the malls where there was a lot of goods that could be stolen. He declared that it was much bigger than what was happening currently. It was a permanent feature in the townships of SA. That needed to be addressed by politicians. The police and military had been needed, but a political solution was needed and the politicians had to address the matter.
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) said that his colleagues had touched on many topics, but he was still concerned about the bullets that were said to have been stolen. The Minister of Police was on record as having said that over a million bullets were involved, but there had been no mention of who had broken in and stolen the bullets.
Mr Cebekhulu’s connectivity was so bad that he could not be heard, and the same applied to Mr Motsamai.
General Holomisa said that, notwithstanding the fact that the Committee was waiting for the Generals to respond to their questions and the questions of the general public, the Committee would be doing a disservice of it did not co-ordinate other relevant Portfolio Committees, such as the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the Portfolio Committee on Police, with a view to possibly establishing a working committee that could investigate the situation without having to rely on the executives, as there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered.
He said that the soldiers would not be in a position to answer some of the questions, given that the causes were being massaged so that the Committee did not even know where the events had started and what the reasons were for the events. It was his submission that the authorities were simply not telling the Committee the causes.
Ms A Mthembu (ANC) said that she had poor networking in her area. She appreciated the presentation. She applauded the initiative to deploy soldiers in those areas, although it was a little late considering the damage that had been caused. The presence of soldiers in all areas made a huge difference to the communities and had stabilised the situation. Were the soldiers going to the rural areas, or would they remain around the towns? The people in the rural areas at least needed to see the soldiers, even if they did not stay there.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng said he had forgotten to congratulate Gen Sangweni on being appointed Head of Joint Operations. He had successfully worked with him before. The General made him very proud.
Co-Chairperson Xaba said that the N3 highway was an important corridor passing through KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng and beyond. Goods amounting to about R3 billion per day passed up and down that corridor. It had been attacked several times at particular spots over the years, and that was extremely disruptive. That road should long have been considered a national key point and a critical structure when one considered the impact of that road on the economy of the country. It was a matter that needed urgent review. It required a permanent solution, not just a reaction. It brought the country nearly to a standstill in term of food, medical and fuel supplies. If one tampered with those, one tampered with the nerve of any nation. He did not know what message the General had in that regard, but if it had not been considered, it would have to be put on the agenda again.
He added that other arterial roads should also be evaluated to determine whether they formed critical economic corridors and would need similar protection.
Gen. Maphwanya said that in the absence of the Minister and any other members of the Executive, he would take the lead in responding to the questions, especially -- as General Holomisa had said -- some of the questions were not restricted to the current situation but were more cross-cutting and referred to the Department of Defence generally. He would respond to questions about the response of the Defence Force and the implications for the country. He informed Members that he had lost connectivity just after Mr Marais had spoken.
He said he would refer to “opposing forces,” for lack of a better description at the moment, although he would call them "thugs," for someone who took up a stone and broke a window ceased to be a protester but became a thug or a criminal. He agreed that the SANDF should engage with the intelligence fraternity for more information on those involved. The SANDF did have some of that information, and he would be able to discuss this more openly on Tuesday at the oversight meeting. Certain things he could not discuss in the current meeting, such as the deployment along the pipeline. However, rural areas were critical because when the baker wanted to make some more bread, the replenishments came from agricultural production. SANDF had already begun discussions on how best to protect that critical aspect of the economy.
He took note the comments, especially with regard to viewing the N3 as a critical structure. The Defence Force had put forward suggestions with regard to the choke points on the N3. There was a plan in place, and on Tuesday he would articulate some aspects of the plans and the proposals in that regard.
He had missed Mr Ryder’s input, but had heard Mr Mmuthle’s concerns about the responses to private malls as opposed to municipalities. When the Defence Force was employed, it came as a result of a request from the police for support. He agreed that the media would see those parallels, but he could not respond to that, as the SANDF was employed as required and as per section 200 of the Constitution. The integrated team that Gen Holomisa had suggested would be the team to respond to such discussions.
He responded to the questions regarding the number of troops deployed to Gauteng as opposed to those deployed to KwaZulu-Natal. The numbers reflected the mobilised troops, remembering that troops came from different areas. It was also not just about numbers, but also about the capabilities on the ground, an assessment of the situation and a desire to resolve the problems. Where the Defence Force felt that there was a requirement for additional numbers, that would be done. It was a question of flooding a place with people versus equipment and capabilities, but he was not going to go into the capabilities that had been deployed.
Gen. Maphwanya agreed with Mr Shelembe’s question on the information system. People picked up bits of information, but some information was critical and essential. The SANDF had put out contact numbers for the coordinating or operational centres that responded to information. What was required was to put out those numbers so that when people picked up essential intelligence, that information could reach the security forces in time, as the security forces were there to protect the people. People were central to their own protection because all those things happened within their own communities, so they were the ones best placed to know who was planning these things. He would pursue that point by publicising the lines that people should use to provide information, even anonymously, so that they did not become victims of the criminals.
He informed Members that there were times when the OODA cycle became overloaded. The OODA cycle was a planning cycle that allowed a commander to observe–orient–decide–act. When it was overloaded by a myriad of non-essential or unverified information, the cycle was overloaded and good actions could not result. The commanders listened to some of the rumours, but essentially required the intelligence units to provide intelligence that they could act on. Operations were end-driven. The Defence Force could never go into any operation blindfolded, as it could not then act proactively.
The General responded to the concern about the number of people brandishing weapons. He agreed that it was illegal in SA for automatic rifles to be in the hands of civilians, as it became dangerous both for those carrying the rifles and for the people around them. That was an issue for the police. However, if the police found themselves in danger, the Defence Force would give close fire support. Basically, they supported each other and worked together to keep people safe.
The areas that he had not touched on, particularly in relation to the presentation, would be responded to by Gen. Sangweni, who was involved in the operational side.
He concluded by stating that the SANDF was responding in terms of the Commander-in-Chief’s instruction to employ 25 000 troops, with a budget of R615 million. The Defence Force had commenced action and would continue to act until stability was restored and the timeframe of the mission had been reached. He had responded to the overall questions, as he had been nominated by the Minister and the commanders to be the senior Defence Force person in the meeting.
Co-Chairperson Xaba commented that everyone was responding to intelligence, but it did not appear that everyone was responding to the intelligence in the same way. The former President, Thabo Mbeki, had said that it was a counter-revolutionary insurgence. He believed that what the country had been through had the hallmarks of counter-insurgence. The President had said that it was an attempted insurrection, because it bore the hallmarks of an insurrection. It was a failed insurrection because the people did not support it. If anything, they had defended their property and businesses, and it was only in some areas where it had continued unabated. Thirdly, the Minister had stated that the events could not be characterised as an insurrection -- it was a counter-revolution by thugs. The Minister saw the criminal activities, but she did not go further. The Minister of Intelligence had said that the country was not dealing with a coup or an attempted coup. He was not sure how she had characterised the problem. The Minister of Police had said that it was just a smokescreen -- the looting and torching of the infrastructure was just a smokescreen and if the police had not intervened in time, assisted by intelligence, the country would be talking of something else because the plan had been to attack certain installations. It was a crime against the state.
He wondered whether the SANDF had the right target before it, or whether it was on a wild goose chase. He had listened to all the people listed above. He was Co-Chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, and he did not know how he should respond if he were asked about the situation. Maybe it was just civil unrest. He did not know. Maybe it was only when the people responsible were caught that the country would know what that had been. However, the intelligence was available and the situation had been brought under control, so he thought that there should be some information about what the country had been dealing with. How did one prepare if one did not know what one was dealing with? How did one reassure the country when one did not know what the country had been dealing with?
There was no doubt that it was not just spottiness -- it had been well-orchestrated. When one listened to the voice messages, it was clear that there were people planning it, and they were still sending out messages. He accepted that it could not be discussed at the current meeting, but at the forthcoming closed meeting, he wanted Gen. Maphwanya to help Committee Members to see what he, as the Head of the SANDF, was acting on. Otherwise, they were spending R615 million on a problem that had not been characterised. It had caused billions of rands worth of damage. He understood Gen Holomisa’s call for a cross-cutting team, but it would not have the intelligence that the Defence Force had, which was necessary to get to the root cause of the problem. They needed to get to the root and eliminate it so that they did not face the same concern again.
He was not asking the General to respond then, but he was concerned that there was not a single understanding of the cause. He apologised, but he had felt the need to raise this because there was something that was just not adding up.
Gen Holomisa said that if the Co-Chairperson wanted the Intelligence Cluster to provide a security report, he believed that the cluster should form part of the cross-cutting group so that Members could ask the questions and not just be handed a report. They knew that the Intelligence Cluster had failed. Maybe the Members should listen carefully to what the President had said the previous day. The President had said that he knew who was doing that. He would leave the matter there.
Response by SANDF
General Maphwanya acknowledged that the Co-Chairperson had summarised the situation in such a way that the narrative seemed to be different, and it confused people, as various leaders had defined events in different ways. He noted the explanations given by the various leaders, but he did not want to delve into perceptions. The SANDF had been brought in on the basis of a specific problem, which was that there were issues that had to be addressed on the ground. The commanders had made an appreciation of the situation. They realised that the appreciation would determine the first shot on the ground, and that would determine the success of the operation. In a re-appreciation of the situation, they had realised that they had overestimated the state's capabilities, so the SANDF's intention of safeguarding certain key points might not address what was subsequently coming out as further information on the available intelligence was fed to the SANDF.
He declared that Gen Holomisa was correct -- that the Portfolio Committee on Intelligence was entrusted to answer on intelligence issues. The Portfolio Committee on Defence and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence had an oversight role, and would deal with defence matters. The Portfolio Committee on Intelligence should have engaged with the Joint Standing Committee, as Parliament was one seamless organisation that was entrusted with security and with the lives of South Africans.
He suggested that in a conducive environment, those narratives could be interrogated, but the narratives had to be informed by various committees of government that were supposed to be working together and not working in silos. They should complement each other in coming to a solution on the issues facing the country. He knew why he had been brought into the fold, and that was because he had delivered, based on an appreciation that he had made of the situation. However, the plan continued to change because the situation was fluid. He explained that he could not go into the entire situation because he did not want to get into the domain of other organisations. However, the Police, Intelligence and the Defence Force were all parts of a single organisation defending the country.
Co-Chairperson Xaba agreed that the situation was fluid and he would leave it at that. He added that the Portfolio Committee on Intelligence was as good as the Joint Standing Committee, because that Committee also relied on the intelligence agencies to give them information. The problem lay in the messages going out.
There should be one message, and many voices or the leaders were failing the people.
He suggested that there was very little left for Gen Sangweni to deal with, but he could give an overview. The Committee would deal with details when it met the forces on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Gen Sangweni should also tell the Committee with whom it should engage in the provinces.
He agreed with Gen Maphwanya that Members had a lot of information that came into their possession, and they did not know who to give it to. The Chief had said he would make it clear where people could present that information. Currently, they were holding information but did not have a central place to deposit that information for analysis and to be acted upon, if necessary.
Mr Marais referred to the number of troops deployed. They did not seem right to him, especially in respect of the numbers required in KwaZulu-Natal. That could be clarified in the meeting on the Tuesday.
Gen Maphwanya reminded the Co-Chairperson that he had said at the beginning of the meeting that there should be a balance between operational security and oversight responsibility. He requested that the Tuesday meeting be held in camera.
Co-Chairperson Xaba wholeheartedly agreed with the General’s request that the meeting to be held in camera.
Response by SANDF
Gnl Sangweni thanked Committee Members for their support and appreciated their understanding of the fluidity of the situation. The SANDF was responding in terms of certain plans laid out, but those who had been exposed to the military would understand that the Defence Force began with its first shot “which determines,” and then it re-appreciated and re-aligned its plans.
He responded to the question about the command and control system. The system applicable to Operation Prosper was that of the Provincial Joint Operational Structures (ProvJoints) and the NatJoints. All the discussions and planning had to converge there, and they discussed what to do next and how to do it, based on the legal framework which determined what the military could do in internal operations in support of the SAPS. The SANDF always adhered to the legal framework, even though it might seem to others that the Defence Force was not living up to the requirements of the task. Even the Joint Standing Committee on Defence looked to see how the SANDF conducted its business and whether it was in line with the regulatory framework of the country and the necessary protocols.
The SANDF was working hard and was very optimistic, and hoped that the Defence Force would do justice to the objectives of the operation.
Co-Chairperson Xaba said that the Committee would hold closed meetings in the provinces so that Members could drill down to the details in order to understand the challenges.
Committee Programme for oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng
Co-Chairperson Xaba presented the draft framework for the oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, including the closed meeting. He said that the original intention had been to be in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday and Gauteng on Tuesday, but owing to logistical issues, the dates had been changed to the Tuesday and Wednesday, 20 and 21 July.
He had learnt that the Portfolio Committee on Police would be on an oversight visit to the two provinces on the same days. He had discussed the visit with the Chairperson of that Portfolio Committee, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to ensure that they did not cover exactly the same ground. They had also decided to begin each day with a joint briefing by the SANDF and SAPS. Thereafter, they would go their separate ways, as that would give wider coverage and also they would not form too large a group, as they had to adhere to Covid rules.
The particular areas to be visited by the Joint Standing Committee had not yet been identified because he wanted the SANDF to give some input into the process of deciding which areas to visit. If the SANDF could fly the Committee around the province, it would enjoy greater coverage, but if the Committee was limited to ground transport, that would limit where Members could go.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police had suggested that the two Committees meet on the Monday evening to discuss their expectations for the visit. He added that he had requested the SANDF to engage directly with the Committee staff after the meeting to give their recommendations on which areas the Committee should visit.
Mr Marais was satisfied with the programme, but reminded Members that a recent gazette had indicated that transport could be provided to Committees on oversight visits and that the curfew would be waived. It was possible that a letter was needed to facilitate that, but he would like the days to be as packed as possible. The Committee could fly as late as possible if Members did not have to adhere to the curfew.
He added that if the SANDF provided transport, it would make the visit much more productive. He had been in touch with the Minister, as it appeared that she was not aware that the Defence Force normally provided transport when the Committee was on an oversight visit. He strongly requested that the SANDF consider providing transport.
He was looking forward to the meeting on Tuesday morning in Durban.
Mr Ryder informed the Committee, and particularly Mr Marais, that his recent request for a letter from the Secretary of Parliament to undertake oversight after the curfew had been promptly dealt with, and he had received a letter from her office within an hour. He agreed that finishing at 16h00 would be very difficult, especially as two Committees would be asking questions after a two-hour presentation, and that would definitely take longer than the allocated 30 minutes.
He was concerned about the joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Police, as it did not seem to allow for a closed meeting. It might be difficult to arrange for a closed meeting with whoever had to sign it off, if two Committees were involved. A large open meeting would not seem to meet the requirements of Members of the Joint Standing Committee.
Co-Chairperson Xaba asked Mr Ryder for clarity.
Mr Ryder explained that it was a lot easier for the Joint Standing Committee on Defence to obtain permission to hold a closed meeting owing to the nature of the business of the Committee. Other Committees found it very difficult to obtain permission for a closed meeting.
Mr Marais concurred with Mr Ryder.
Co-Chairperson Xaba commented that the SANDF would probably also feel much more comfortable discussing sensitive matters with a small group rather than with a larger group. He said that there would probably be a one-hour meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Police, and then the Committee would move into the closed meeting.
Mr Marais said that he would rather spend more time with the Generals than with SAPS and the Portfolio Committee on Police.
Mr Ryder suggested that the meeting could be brought forward to 09h00, as the Defence Force began its day very early.
Co-Chairperson Xaba agreed with the suggestion to move the meeting to 09h00. He asked Gen Maphwanya for his views.
Gen Maphwanya commented that he was a spectator but also an interested party, but he requested that the oversight visit enhance the operation and not disrupt the tempo of the operation. The Defence Force would love to provide transport where it could, but he had limited access to platforms, as many vehicles were in for maintenance and repairs, so he had fielded most of the platforms in the arena of the operation. He would, however, contact the commanders in the arena of the operation to find out what assistance he could provide.
Co-Chairperson Xaba thanked Gen Maphwanya and assured him that he understood fully what the General was saying.
He thanked everyone, particularly the two Generals and the Minister in her absence.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.