By the third week of July, soldiers from both full-time and Reserves from at least 12 units and regiments found themselves protecting police and a range of infrastructure as civil unrest eased after days of arson, looting and violence.
A delegation of parliamentarians representing the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) and the Portfolio Committee on Police undertook oversight inspection and briefings in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal where the unrest wreaked havoc on business, infrastructure, work (and continued employment) and left more than 300 dead.
Against this background, senior SA National Defence Force (SANDF) officers presented thorough briefings, including for Gauteng, on units and regiments deployed to ensure police could go about their business of stopping the unrest and making arrests.
In KwaZulu-Natal, Major General Patrick Dube, the Operation Prosper provincial military commander, emphasised to his parliamentary visitors “all SANDF activities were in support of police”.
The two-star, a former commander of the South African battalion in MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), noted the initial military focus was securing national key points and “important access routes” including vulnerable sections of the N2 and N3 highways. This, the adopted JSCD report on the visit noted, was “essential to ensure freedom of movement for cargo carriers”.
“As SANDF support evolved, with additional personnel arriving, deployments with police increased, with a focus on neutralising destabilisers and achieving an end state where the province will return to normal.”
At the time of the briefing, units in the province included elements of 1, 4, 5 and 121 SA infantry battalions, the Ingobamakhosi, Umvoti and Umzimvubu Reserve Force regiments, 1 Special Services Battalion, 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 20 Air Defence Artillery Regiment, 4 Artillery Regiment and the SA Navy’s Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS).
Taskings saw these soldiers and marines securing national key points, enhancing security forces’ visibility, securing important access routes, conducting roadblocks, assisting with road clearing, protecting hospitals, having forces on standby for reaction capabilities, protecting courts, assisting in protection of key agricultural routes and removing barricades.
In Gauteng, South Africa’s economic heartland, parliamentarians heard two battalions (not specified but in all probability infantry) were deployed in and around Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Johannesburg, Soweto, Sedibeng and the West Rand. They were posted at, according to the JSCD report, “national key points, critical infrastructure and other sites”. Taskings included foot and vehicle patrols, manning control points, protecting national key points, visibility patrols, apprehending suspected individuals and handing them to police as well as cordon and search operations and escort duties.
The airborne component of the latest instalment of Operation Prosper is headquartered and works from Air Force Base Waterkloof in Centurion. SA Air Force (SAAF) taskings range from force projection and medical evacuations to intelligence gathering and command and control. Additionally, the air force’s ageing C-130BZ transports move equipment and personnel to and from KwaZulu-Natal.
The current national defence force deployment is, according to a Presidential authorisation, due to finish on 12 August after starting on 12 July. The cost of deployment is put at around the R615 million mark.