President Cyril Ramaphosa again stressed South Africa’s security personnel “must act within the law at all times” during the coronavirus lockdown and his defence minister wants soldiers to “desist from using excessive force” following incidents of alleged violence against people apparently breaking the disaster regulations.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is quoted in a statement released by Department of Defence (DoD) head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, as instructing SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke to “monitor the situation” and “deal with members proven to have used excessive or unnecessary force”.
“Such heavy-handedness is not in the interest of safeguarding our citizens,” the statement adds in the wake of social media postings apparently showing soldiers using excessive force against civilians. Included are clips of people apparently forced to do push-ups and squats and batons and whips used on people appearing to be in a supermarket queue.
Neither of the responses go as far as ordering investigation, whether by military police, Defence Intelligence or even the intelligence and counter-intelligence personnel of units deployed to enforce the lockdown.
In direct contrast the Democratic Alliance (DA), in the form of the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister, approached Military Ombud, retired Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, for an “independent investigation”.
The country’s largest military trade union Sandu (SA National Defence Union) also condemned lockdown incidents allegedly involving soldiers.
“At the very least the depicted soldiers are committing acts of common assault,” union national secretary Pikkie Greeff said in a statement.
“SANDU condemns in the strongest possible terms the behaviour and conduct of these members in uniform. SANDU views the conduct as ill-disciplined, criminal and disreputable to the image of the SANDF and a dishonour of the military. Sandu demands the members be identified and charged in accordance with military law and procedure.
“Sandu calls on all soldiers to behave in accordance with their training and discipline,” the statement reads.
Defence authority and African Defence Review director Darren Olivier said, “It’s good this is getting high-level attention, let’s hope we see results. I know it’s difficult out there for police and soldiers attempting to enforce the lockdown, they are too few and the task is huge, but abuse and going beyond regulations can’t be allowed or accepted.”