From a high of more than 80 000 military personnel “employed” at the height of the national state of disaster called to “save” South Africa from the ravages of COVID-19, there is currently an effective military strength of a tenth of that at work.
With the country officially on lockdown level one as from today (21 September) eight of the 20 000 thousand SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel “employed” on Operation Notlela duty remain in place until month-end. According to the Joint Operations Division the “current effective strength” is eight thousand with the majority of uniformed personnel either infantry supporting police or various medical disciplines from SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).
Uniformed medical personnel have and continue to assist national and provincial departments of health personnel in screening and testing for coronavirus as well as working with positive patients and those recovering from the virus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, late in 2019.
Foot soldiers were back-up to police during roadblocks, searches and curfew enforcement in the early days of lockdown. This still forms the bulk of mission orders with the added extra of assisting police to combat all forms of criminality.
There is currently no indication of when the national defence force commitment to the national state of disaster will end. One defence insider pointed out soldiers have been working with police to combat gang violence and other crimes for more than a year, initially in Western Cape as part of Operation Lockdown (no relation to the state of disaster lockdown) and this will “probably continue in some form or other”.
In July Joint Operations headquarters informed its nine provincial joint operations headquarters Operation Notlela was extended to year-end (31 December).