The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) confirmed “around 40 soldiers” tested positive for COVID-19, at least two days after a provincial Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) became the first public representative to break what appears to be a self-imposed ban by the military on the impact – or not – the pandemic is having on the ranks.
On Tuesday, a news wire service reported Limpopo health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, as saying 38 soldiers in Lephalale tested positive for coronavirus.
A subsequent SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communications (DCC) statement confirmed the positive tests.
The statement identified the soldiers as belonging to “an infantry battalion from Cape Town”. The only Western Cape capital-based unit in the SA Army Infantry Formation is 9 SAI at Eerste Rivier.
The soldiers were, according to the DCC statement, to be deployed to augment another battalion to boost the border protection and safeguarding role during the national state of disaster. This is an ongoing tasking for the national defence force as Operation Corona and the added personnel was alluded to by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he announced the extension of SANDF “employment” for a wide range of anti-coronavirus actions.
“The battalion arrived in Lephalale on 13 June and was immediately placed under 14 day quarantine at the SA Military Health Services (SAMHS) Training Centre in the Limpopo town, as per stipulated health protocols. As is the norm during mission readiness training (MRT) no soldiers were allowed off base. After some soldiers were screened it became clear a further number needed to be tested. There were soldiers who tested positive for COVID-19. A decision was then taken for the entire battalion to be tested. Those found positive were isolated in a base facility specifically established and prepared for this purpose,” the statement said.
It also goes into some detail about the role of the SANDF during the national state of disaster.
“SANDF soldiers are at the coalface every day in the fight against COVID-19 assisting other government departments in different roles. SANDF units are all over the Republic and the composition of members is not from any one region. The SANDF will not act irresponsibly making decisions on which elements need to be deployed when and where,” it said.