Two senior parliamentarians weighed in on the apparent “accosting” of an on duty soldier by a civilian, maintaining it appears to be “extreme provocation” and firmly pointing out the brigadier general speaking on behalf of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) erred saying soldiers were “law enforcement officials”.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC parliamentarian and co-chair of both defence oversight committees Cyril Xaba and Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais criticised the manner in which a soldier on a Pietermaritzburg street was apparently accosted and manhandled.
Xaba called it “an act of extreme provocation” seemingly intended to “embarrass” the SANDF.
“Conduct like this should not be tolerated,” he told defenceWeb.
Marais said the Pietermaritzburg incident was – to date – the only one he knew of since soldiers were deployed in the aftermath of civil unrest last month.
“That there has only been one incident is testament to the restraint soldiers exercise while on patrol and in close contact with civilians. They and those commanding them must be credited,” he said, adding the single incident again brought to the fore that soldiers are not law enforcers.
“They are on the ground to support police. This is set out in the Code of Conduct drawn up specifically for this iteration of Operation Prosper. It clearly sets out the rights and obligations of deployed and employed soldiers, emphasising they are soldiers not law enforcement officials.”
The SANDF statement on the Pietermaritzburg incident, which garnered widespread attention and reaction after social media posting, noted “concern” adding “the public is urged to refrain from committing acts of provocation or incitement against SANDF members”.
“It is an illegal and prosecutable offence to interfere with any law enforcement official on duty regardless of circumstances. The SANDF commends the soldier for maintaining discipline under serious provocation. It is equally concerning to note a few social media comments commending this act of provocation.
“Such contempt, disregard and disrespect of a law enforcement officer should be condemned with the contempt it deserves by all law abiding citizens,” the statement has Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, Director: Defence Corporate Communication (DCC), saying.
In KwaZulu-Natal on the oversight visit Marais was told by Major General Patrick Dube “people are provocative toward soldiers who as SANDF personnel must maintain discipline and posture”. This, according to the two-star general heading Operation Prosper in the coastal province, will have repercussions for soldiers found guilty.
Marais is hopeful the Pietermaritzburg incident “goes to the top” in the military chain of command.
“This is another pointer to the need for crowd control and riot training for soldiers as chances of them being deployed internally again in similar circumstances cannot be ignored.”
A former SANDF internal operations senior staff officer, Colonel (ret) David Peddle, believes the person in the video “should have been arrested there and then for assault and if the Army had batons instead of only rifles the situation may not even have developed.”
He notes the SA Army has crowd control training and weapons (including 12 gauge shotguns using less lethal rounds and grenade launchers that can fire 40 mm less lethal cartridges) and gained policing experience in UN peacekeeping deployments since 2003.
“South African troops among other UN forces, effectively carried out policing operations, without resorting to so-called ‘conventional war methods’ involving massed firepower to subject populations. One will be hard pressed to find a single incident of gratuitous violence against foreign speaking populations carried out by SA troops. Much less so in South Africa, where troops speak the same languages as the population.”