With thousands of soldiers deployed across the length and breadth of South Africa for most of last year it appears, as always with exceptions, they did as instructed to assist in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 as ordered by government’s NCCC (National Coronavirus Command Council).
The Military Ombud Office received just 56 written complaints regarding unseemly conduct of soldiers while on duty in the 2020/21 financial year.
Included in the low numbers of incidents is the death of Alexandra resident Collins Khosa, allegedly killed by soldiers over the 2020 Easter weekend for apparently drinking in public. A military board of inquiry exonerated soldiers allegedly involved and Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula subsequently indicated she was not given correct information about Khosa’s death and actions leading to it. The matter is still under police investigation and, as far as can be ascertained at the time of publishing, no arrests have been made and there have been no court appearances.
Complaints lodged with Ombud retired general Vusi Masondo’s EcoPark, Centurion, office include allegations of assault, damage to property, use of excessive force and what is termed “general heavy handedness” by soldiers, according to an Ombud Office statement.
Seventy percent of the 56 complaints – the highest number lodged in a year with the Ombud since its establishment in 2012 – were finalised. Some were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Masondo said some challenges encountered by his office during investigations were travel restrictions and social distancing protocols. “We were only able to commence with investigations in the third quarter of the financial year. Turnaround times for investigations was negatively impacted,” Masondo said.
Among cases dealt with by the Office was one reported by a tavern owner who alleged on one particular afternoon, members of the SA Police Service (SAPS) and SANDF visited his premises, stole and drank alcohol, threw empty cans at him and assaulted him.
They allegedly stole R25 000 in cash and alcohol worth “thousands of rands” which they loaded in police vans. The tavern owner was unable to get the soldiers’ names. The incident was captured on video and the identity of the soldiers confirmed by the footage.The investigation is finalised with the preliminary report issued to the interested parties. The complainant’s name or identity is not made public in terms of Military Ombud operations.
Another incident where soldiers’ behaviour came under the spotlight was in Mpumalanga’s Bushbuckridge, an area notorious for law avoidance. This was the scene of a shooting when soldiers assisted police to prevent a vigilante killing during the SANDF COVID-19 deployment under the tasking Operation Notlela.
Masondo reminded people to provide as much detail and information as possible to assist Ombud investigations.
He said a name – all SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel have a surname tab above the right front pocket of their work (camouflage) uniform and rank insignia on collars – was paramount. Other information which could assist Ombud investigators are vehicle registrations as well as names and contact details of witnesses to incidents.