Ramaphosa extends deployment of soldiers to fight crime

2226

President and Commander-in-Chief Cyril Ramaphosa has extended the deployment of 880 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) to prevent and combat crime.

In a letter to the National Council of Provinces dated 23 October, Ramaphosa said members of the SANDF will continue to work in cooperation with the SAPS, to protect and safeguard national key points and critical infrastructure in the energy sector (Eskom power stations) under Operation Prosper, from 18 October 2023 to 31 March 2024.

The expenditure expected to be incurred for this deployment amounts to R110 million.

The Operation Prosper deployment was last extended in May, at a cost of R146 million over six months. The deployment first began in December 2022 when soldiers were tasked with protecting Eskom infrastructure.

Answering oral questions from Members of Parliament in the National Assembly during a hybrid question and answer session on Thursday 2 November, Ramaphosa said in addition to the nearly 900 soldiers working with police to safeguard infrastructure, they are now also performing other tasks, including dealing with “the brazen acts of criminals in construction and illegal mining.”

“We already see that the support that they lend to the police is quite invaluable and is appreciated not only by the police but by the citizens of our country. Whenever there are safety and security challenges they have always asked for soldiers to support the police,” he said.

“Our national defence force is really up to the tasks at the best and worst of times,” Ramaphosa told the National Assembly, adding that, “I am very proud of how our South African National Defence Force members and command thereof have really taken on the task that they have always been given, both inside and outside of our country.”

“The underfunding that has been going on with regard to the SANDF is a matter that we are addressing and I have also said that we need to increase the funding of the SANDF so that they are always ready and always capable to be able to take on not only tasks of defending the integrity of the Republic but also its people and also ensuring that when there are disasters they are the best capable of addressing disasters,” the President added.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, also answering questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, said the Department of Defence (DoD) is keeping tabs on the goings on of the zama zamas and the cash in transit gangs. The DoD has drawn in other ministers outside the defence and security cluster, namely Minerals, Housing, and Water and Sanitation, as they are also affected by illegal mining.

“In the North West they [zama zamas] have started doing what they know as sexual offences where young women are taken for R3 000… they also interfere with the water resources which are then diverted into the underground mines,” Modise said, adding that although the security cluster is keeping tabs on them, “for now the police seem to be doing very well on their own. We are as defence on standby for whenever we are called…but if the President says it is time for us to come in, yes. Do we have a plan? Yes we do. Do we think that that plan if called upon will work? Yes we do. Do we see a role for the defence in dealing with the zama zamas? Yes we do…So whatever situation, if the head of state ever calls us to be in support of the police and other ministries, we will be ready.”

As for funding deployments to fight crime, Modise said Treasury would provide much of the necessary funds, aside from transport and travelling and subsistence allowances.

Darren Olivier, Director of African Defence Review, said using soldiers to combat crime is “still a terrible idea, one which harms both the SANDF and the SAPS and which will have long term negative consequences for civil military relations in the country. The government is out of ideas and throwing the military at problems it’s not suited for.”