The Military Ombud received 32 complaints about soldier behaviour, including apparent bullying and violence, in the just on the five months South Africa has been in varying levels of lockdown as part of government strategy to combat the spread of coronavirus.
As far as can be ascertained four civilians died at the hands of soldiers deployed on Operation Notlela, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) tasking for the national state of disaster, now extended again until mid-September.
The first death was that of Alexandra, Johannesburg resident Collins Khosa. He died after he was allegedly assaulted by soldiers searching for illicit liquor on Good Friday and the second is an as yet unnamed person killed in the Bushbuckridge area of Mpumalanga by soldiers supporting police in preventing “mob justice” in July. Also in July, a soldier was arrested by police after he allegedly shot and killed two civilians in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal. The SANDF did not indicate whether the arrested soldier was deployed on Notlela or the national border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
Military Ombud, retired SANDF chief of staff, Vusi Masondo, is according to a statement, investigating 32 complaints of soldier misconduct. His office did not specify what the complaints are about neither did it provide information on where the misconduct reportedly happened.
“All complaints are at different stages of investigation. In cases where there is a joint investigation the law enforcement agencies concerned conduct own investigations into their own members,” an Ombud statement said.
The “usual” time taken for an Ombud investigation to reach the reporting stage is eight months. The Khosa investigation, first brought to the Ombud’s attention by Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, was fast-tracked following Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s request to the retired three-star general.
Masondo found the soldiers involved “acted improperly and irregularly” in the lead-up to the Alexandra resident’s death. They also reportedly ignored operational orders and the rules of engagement set down for Operation Notlela.
ANC MP Thabo Nelson Mmutle recently asked Mapisa-Nqakula on progress of investigations into alleged heavy-handed conduct soldiers during the Notlela deployment. In her parliamentary reply on 20 August, the minister said earlier this year a journalist driving behind a military convoy in Masiphumelele Township in Cape Town alleged he observed an SANDF member assaulting a civilian with a wooden stick.
“Other cases were reported to the SA Police Service and progress can only be obtained from SAPS,” according to the Minister’s reply.