Defence and Police ministers expound on coronavirus lockdown


Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is deployed to assist the SA Police Service (SAPS to ensure lockdown measures are implemented which includes patrols, roadblocks and guard duty.

Speaking on Wednesda, Mapisa-Nqakula said the lockdown is not to punish citizens but to contain and minimise the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa mandates the SANDF to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people to preserve life, health and properties in emergency and humanitarian operations,” she said.

During the lockdown soldiers will assist in roadblocks and foot patrols to enforce the curfew. They will also be involved in border control activities as some are closed and support the health authorities.

The SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) will continue working with health authorities to provide essential services, Mapisa-Nqakula said, while an army team will deploy static guards at quarantine and other sites.

“We reiterate all South Africans should stay at home for the duration of the lockdown,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula dismissed fake news on social media, with videos and photos circulating showing military vehicles. These are mostly from previous Armed Forces Day parades.

“You have not seen a deployment yet. What we have seen is movement of soldiers to assembly points. There is no deployment whatsoever. Some videos you see are fake news,” she said.

The SANDF will be deployed by President Cyril Ramaphosa at 4pm on Thursday, with Ramaphosa expected to address soldiers in Gauteng about two hours later.

Mapisa-Nqakula is reported as saying there will be no “skop, skiet and donner by soldiers unless they have to”.

A different picture was painted by Police Minister Bheki Cele. He told a Wednesday coronavirus briefing, among others, there would be no jogging, dog walking or alcohol sales during the 21-day lockdown that was announced by Ramaphosa and which is set to take effect at midnight tonight (Thursday).

“There’s no need to move around. The cluster met, we had discussions and agreed there will be no walking of dogs. It doesn’t enhance the call made by the President. If you really want to walk your dog, do it around your house – it ends there. The Disaster Management Act says the movement of alcohol will be limited there will be no movement of alcohol during lockdown, that’s illegal. What you have at home, you consume at home, not next door,” SAnews, the official government news agency quotes him as saying.

Johannesburg-based digital daily Times Live reports Mapisa-Nqakula assured South Africans they would not be “abused” by soldiers emphasising deployment of soldiers had nothing to do with “a demonstration of military might” by government.

Given the deployment will see a total of 10 companies from eight SA Army infantry battalions supporting police in the containment of people component of the lockdown, there will not be that many boots on the ground nationally. Indications are, without any clarity from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), soldiers will be tasked with foot patrols and roadblocks.

Taking a company’s strength at around the 140 to 150 mark (three platoons of riflemen and a company headquarters) gives a rough total of approximately 1 400 soldiers in uniform deployed. Two companies are assigned to Gauteng (Johannesburg and the Tshwane Metro) with one each for the remaining eight provinces. There is already an army presence in Western Cape where soldiers are coming to the end of an authorised deployment in support of a police-led crime combatting operation on the Cape Flats. That is mandated to finish at month-end unless otherwise decided by President Ramaphosa, wearing his SANDF Commander-in-Chief hat.

With nearly 500 municipalities ranging from metros through to town and district councils in the country it is difficult to see a “military presence” across the board until 16 April. That is when the 21 day lockdown is slated to end.

With the exception of Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, a previous incumbent of the defence and military veterans portfolio, no mention has been made of informal settlements where hundreds of thousand live cheek by jowl in unhealthy conditions making “social distancing” a concept unlikely to become reality.

Outlining her department’s planned interventions to curb the spread of coronavirus, SAnews reports her warning the virus will find fertile ground to spread if it reaches densely populated areas.

“We need to urgently move some of our people for the de-densification to be realised. Land parcels to relocate and decant dense communities have been secured. This will not be far from current places of residence.

“We appeal to our people to recognise the threat posed by coronavirus in our informal settlements is real. It is in their best interest to avoid this risk by co-operating with government as we relocate them to healthier and safer homes,” SAnews reports.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: “The regulations will ensure  we implement this lockdown and enforce it, this lockdown is about protecting lives, trying to stop the pandemic from spreading,” she said.

The Minister said it was important for citizens to strictly obey the lockdown.

“People must stay at home and if you have to leave, you work for essential services,” she said.

“Stay at home unless you are essential to our survival.”

Areas closed during the lockdown include religious, cultural, sporting, entertainment, educational, organisational and similar premises. Parks, beaches and swimming pools, open food and flea markets and bazaars will also be closed, as will nightclubs and casinos.

Lodges and guest houses will be closed, except those who already had tourists when the shutdown was announced.

Theatres and cinemas, shopping malls and centres (excluding grocery stores and pharmacies) will not operate during the lockdown.

Should these laws be broken, perpetrators face six months in jail and fines, or both.

“In KwaZulu-Natal two people were charged with attempted murder when they deliberately moved around after being told not to. It’s not a fairytale that the law will act and act harshly,” Cele said.