Opposition parties weigh in on soldiers supporting Western Cape police

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The continued use of soldiers to support policing operations – again underway in Western Cape – is an area of concern and can be viewed as an indirect admission that government has “lost the fight against crime”.

This was one element of Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader and defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald’s response to the budget vote presentation by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula this week.

Groenewald, a member of South Africa’s former “home guard” as the Commandos were widely known, said the R50,5 billion budget allocated to the national defence force was “once again inadequate”.

He went on to say there was currently no international or foreign threat against South Africa pointing out the “greatest domestic threat was corruption”. In this regard he mentioned media reports of tender corruption running into hundreds of millions.

“How can taxpayers be expected to pay more taxes if millions are lost to corruption?”

As regards the deployment of what is said to be 8 SA Infantry Battalion to the Cape Flats to support policing operations, Groenewald said the national defence force can be deployed for domestic reasons, rather than its prime mandate of ensuring South Africa’s territorial integrity is protected.

“Soldiers being deployed domestically and raises the question of whether these soldiers are adequately trained and know how to deal with crime situations. Another question is whether police are trained to co-operate with the defence force. Probably not!”

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais was more supportive of the soldiers who will shortly find themselves supporting police on the streets of dangerous Cape Flats townships.

“I pay tribute to our brave soldiers and their command structures for service often under extreme and under-resourced conditions, especially those doing service on our country’s borders, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and from this week those deployed in Cape Town.

“The soldiers who find themselves in Cape Town under abnormal conditions and where the Minister of police (Bheki Cele) unwisely gave advance warning to the drug lords and gangs of their intended deployment. This deployment is an indictment against the SA Police Service and confirms another failure by government. While the army has done well, given the short notice, this operation can only keep the lid on for a short period. Who needs enemies if we have a Police Minister like Minister Cele?” he asked.

As far as actual funding for the South African military machine was concerned Marais repeated the warning he gave the Minister last year.

“I said then we were at a crossroads where hard and difficult decisions have to be made.

“Unfortunately, very little has changed. This year I must caution the minister that the light is an oncoming runaway train and not the end of the tunnel. In nearly every aspect the Department of Defence has gone further backwards. Based on submissions to the portfolio committee in the past we must prepare for a ‘day zero’ scenario,” he said.