Civil unrest update: 2 500 troops being deployed, no state of emergency


Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has authorised the deployment of 2 500 member of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to support police during the current spate of violence and looting.

A Government Gazette was published on Monday 12 July notifying the employment, “for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service for the prevention and combatting of crime and maintenance and preservation of law and order in the Republic of South Africa under Operation Prosper.”

The deployment will be from 12 July to 12 October and is in line with the Defence Act of 2002.

The operation is a standing one and sees the national defence force assist government departments and entities when called on. Operation Prosper is the SANDF’s semi-permanent internal operation for co-operation with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and has existed for a number of years. Similarly, the long-standing operations for disaster response and border patrol are Chariot and Corona respectively.

Darren Olivier, defence expert and Director at African Defence Review, noted some people have been shocked by the fact that just 2 500 troops are being deployed. He explained that, “it may be all the SAPS requested at NATJOINTS; even so, the SA Army really isn’t that big. There are only 63 000 active uniformed SANDF members. About 34 000 are in the army, with only around 12 000 in dedicated infantry units.

“Those 12 000 or so SANDF soldiers in infantry units are split across 14 battalions. At any given time around 5 battalions are committed to peacekeeping and border patrol, leaving nine battalions or roughly 8 000 troops.” Olivier notes that many battalions are either training or already deployed.

“In emergencies the low SANDF numbers are supposed to be augmented by large numbers of reserve soldiers, but decades of underfunding and ongoing Treasury cuts mean there are too few reservists (fewer than 20 000 total) and no authorised budget to pay for extended deployments.

“So realistically the maximum number of troops the SANDF could deploy alongside the SAPS for an extended period of time, with extra funding provided for reserves, is no more than 8 500. But that’s with huge disruption to training and leaves no reserves or standby forces.

“Yet South Africa also has treaty-bound commitments of certain forces to the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, some of which will be used for the upcoming Mozambique SADC deployment. Those can’t be deployed internally, because they’re preparing for a combat deployment. That further cuts down available numbers.”

In a security cluster briefing this morning, Mapisa-Nqakula said SANDF troops are expected to be deployed to Mozambique later this week as part of a Rapid Deployment Force. However, “up until last night the Status of Forces agreement had not been signed.” If it is not signed, it prevents the entire region from deploying, the minister said.

No state of emergency

Mapisa-Nqakula was questioned this morning whether a state of emergency was planned. She said, “I don’t think there is an indication there should be a state of emergency. When the time comes, informed by intelligence…then the President is advised and the President will declare a state of emergency based on that assessment. For now, yes the situation looks like is has gone out of hand…we are all concerned about what is happening. Whether it is correct for now to declare a state of emergency…for now we have not reached that point.”

Mapisa-Nqakula added that a state of emergency would take away all civil liberties from citizens as the military takes over the country.

Looting continues

Looting and unrest continued overnight in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with looting of the Massmart distribution centre in Riverhorse Valley North of Durban, the torching of the LG television facility in Cornubia, the looting of a food cold storage facility in Cornubia, the burning of the China Mall in Camps Drift, Pietermaritzburg, looting of the Mayfield Square Mall in Daveyton, the Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus, and Mams Mall in Mamelodi, amongst others.

Liquor stores were among those affected, as the sale of alcohol is currently banned under COVID-19 restrictions designed to ease pressure on hospitals, as were shops of companies like pharmacy group Clicks Group Ltd, and food retailers Pick n Pay and Shoprite.

Taxis, bus and train services in some areas has been suspended and the movement of freight out of Durban port’s container terminal was disrupted. The Minerals Council mining industry body said some shipments out of the Richards Bay port had been delayed.

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said before the violence flared, the State Security Agency (SSA) and the SAPS were sharing information, but “the target was very fast moving. We averted a lot more than what you see on national television. Be rest assured that we did avert a lot. What you see is what is a part of what could have happened. The SSA and SAPS were not missing in action.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele said by Monday morning, 304 people had been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal, and 453 in Gauteng. Another 30 were arrested in Gauteng whilst Cele and the security cluster were briefing the media.

At least 30 people have been killed in the days of unrest that broke out last week when former President Jacob Zuma handed himself over to authorities. The protests have been fuelled further by frustration over poverty, inequality and the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions.

JSCD to meet

Another development in the ongoing scenario of apparently unchecked looting and violence in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal will see Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meet tomorrow (Wednesday, 14 July) for a briefing on the “security situation in the country and related matters”.

“The committee considers it urgent to interact with the Minister and the top brass of the military to receive a briefing on the internal security situation following the outbreak of unrest, vandalism of property and brazen looting of shops in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” co-chair Cyril Xaba said in a statement.

“The committee calls for calm and restoration of law and order. The committee is worried about the impact of these incidents on the economy and jobs especially considering it is just starting to recover from the debilitating effects of the pandemic.”

Elleck Nchabeleng, Xaba’s co-chair, said: “The committee supports deployment of soldiers to work in support of the police who are overwhelmed and spread out too thinly. We want to ascertain the role of the SANDF in establishing and maintenance of compliance to the rule of law in the two provinces.”