The first days of South Africa’s national coronavirus lockdown have seen allegations of unnecessary brutality and violence by soldiers which are going to find their way to the Office of the Military Ombud.
There is also a call for Parliament to set up an ad hoc committee for executive oversight and the protection of civil liberties.
“There have already been numerous reports of brutality at the hands of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers deployed across South Africa, with more worrying accounts including allegations of soldiers opening fire on residents and employing unnecessarily authoritarian and zealous violence and language. This is absolutely unacceptable and deeply worrying as it shows a government in contempt of the civil liberties afforded all South Africans in a free and democratic state,” is how Democratic Alliance (DA) acting leader John Steenhuisen reacted.
Equally outspoken was Kobus Marais, the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister.
He “strongly condemned” social media posts showing SANDF soldiers members forcing civilians, allegedly not abiding by the lockdown regulations, to do squats and push-ups.
“Worse, there are videos emerging of soldiers physically abusing people, again allegedly for not abiding by lockdown regulations. Such behaviour is disgusting and worthy only of condemnation in the strongest terms,” Marais said, adding he had written to retired SANDF Chief of Staff, retired Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, requesting an independent investigation by the Office of the Military Ombud.
“I asked for an independent investigation because the soldiers’ actions are a gross violation of the military’s mandate and of the Bill of Rights,” he said.
Marais also engaged Major General “Mannetjies” De Goede, acting SA Army Chief about the issue.
“He confirmed the matter had been registered for investigation. We trust this investigation will be transparent and that SANDF and SAPS members involved will be held fully accountable for their deplorable behaviour.”
Marais said there was no question people not complying with lockdown regulations should suffer the consequences of their actions “but we condemn any act which seeks to humiliate and degrade citizens”.
He also took up the issue with Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Steenhuisen’s proposed ad hoc committee will, among others, ensure protection of civil rights “at all times during the lockdown”.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, the Department of Defence (DOD) said it has taken note of various allegations of abuse by members of the SANDF deployed in support of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula condemns any type or form of abuse committed by the deployed soldiers against citizens during the Lockdown period. The Minister wishes to strongly reiterate the message delivered by the Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF to the deploying soldiers to desist from using excessive force against citizens of the country regardless of the level of provocation they may face whilst deployed,” the statement said.
“The Minister has since instructed the Chief of the SANDF (C SANDF) to monitor the situation on the ground and deal with those members proven to have used excessive or unnecessary force against the citizens. Such heavy handedness is not in the interest of safeguarding our citizens. It would be in the best interest of the SANDF to empower the public about the dangers of the virus therefore citizens are urged to remain in their homes at all possible times. This will help curb the spread of the virus in our communities. We appeal to all people to play a positive role in ensuring that the spread of the virus is curbed.
“The Minister is calling upon all citizens to adhere to the Lockdown regulations as stated in the government gazette for the duration of the lockdown and to desist from provoking any of the law enforcement officials deployed to assist curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”