Commander-in-Chief extends Op Prosper for another month


Former Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s final contribution as the civilian at the helm of South Africa’s military was to request a reduction in soldiers deployed in the wake of widespread and violent civil unrest in July.

A letter, dated 10 August by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa, authorises the “employment” extension of 10 000 military personnel in “co-corporation (sic)” with police. The missive, addressed to National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chair Amos Masondo, yesterday found its way into the public domain.

Ramaphosa heeded his former defence minister’s request to reduce soldier numbers from the 25 000 activated during unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

His letter states, in part: “On 16 July 2021, I informed Parliament that I have authorised the employment of 25 000 members of the SANDF for a period from 12 July to 12 August 2021.” This has now been extended from 13 August to 13 September.

Ramaphosa indicates expected expenditure for the extension of standing SANDF Operation Prosper to be R254 914 500. This covers salaries and allowances for soldiers on “active duty”.

The President does not go into provincial specifics with soldiers currently in three provinces. The military presence in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal follows directly from the violent and damaging civil unrest in those two provinces while the Western Cape “employment” is yet again in response to a SA Police Service (SAPS) call for assistance in crime fighting and prevention. Soldiers have been in and on the Cape Flats and other crime-hit areas of the wider Cape Town metropole for more than a year providing perimeter security so police can execute searches and make arrests without having to watch their backs. A retired lieutenant colonel with experience of urban operations told defenceWeb soldiers would “go to where they’re needed and this should be intelligence driven” adding the Western Cape deployment was “area specific”.

Ongoing utilisation of South African military personnel internally is seen by at least two people in the know to remain integral to fighting crime as well as containing civil unrest. The Operation Prosper tasking previously saw soldiers and other military musterings provide humanitarian assistance, healthcare, and erect bridges in far-flung areas.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais is on record as saying the SANDF will find itself on internal deployments more often, meaning training and equipment for taskings of this nature will have to become part of the overall training curricula of the four arms of service.

Another who sees the need for changes to the training regimens of the SANDF is Brigadier General Gerald Pharo, Director: Conventional Operations at the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF.

Writing in the Johannesburg daily The Citizen, he notes the just ended Operation Prosper deployment “provided the SANDF with a thorough test of its systems”. These range from command and co-ordination with civil authorities to troop movements and catering in temporary bases using mobile kitchens to feed troops with different dietary needs.

“Our leader group needs to be further trained on how to deal with issues arising on street corners and recognise threats, reacting differently compared to coming under fire on a battlefield.”

He stresses, as have other SANDF staff and flag officers, the deployment of military personnel is in support of and co-operation with police – not to do the work of police.

On the positive side Pharo writes “the continued use of the one force concept, deploying reserve and regular forces in tandem” was a success.

“We learnt a great deal about ourselves, our abilities, the equipment we use and our training. One shortfall in training is we concentrate on peacekeeping and offensive external operations at the expense of counter insurgency training, which part of Operation Prosper was about. Counter insurgency warfare is a different scenario with its own unique challenges.

“We need to look at improving communication at all levels and create a common understanding of different areas and the scope of responsibilities between the military, police and intelligence. As an example, during cordon and search operations the military secures the perimeter to allow police to search unhindered by and safe from external threats based on credible intelligence. Something as small as reaching the objective together is a different concept depending on whether you are police or military. Soldiers travel in convoy, while police might travel individually and at will.

“We need to ensure going forward there are greater degrees of joint and inter-agency training between police, military and other agencies so we can operate more efficiently in future.”

He poses the need for civic education at schools so youth “can understand not just what the army does, but the entire shape and form of how a society functions too”.

“Education along these lines would among others, bear fruits of a national identity and respect for deployed soldiers, rather than trying to provoke them. Most disheartening for military personnel on the ground was to discover elderly citizens almost entirely disavowed looting but a significant proportion of youth found nothing wrong with it,” is another pertinent observation by the brigadier general.