President Cyril Ramaphosa added the phrase “invisible enemy” to the South African coronavirus lexicon when he addressed soldiers at the Doornkop military base prior to the first patrols of the three-week national lockdown.
Wearing military camouflage and an American style baseball cap, the Commander-in-Chief, without any rank insignia showing on his jacket collar, told soldiers their mission was to save lives.
“Your mission is to save lives. We are not the only country waging war against an invisible enemy – coronavirus. In you, our people have a defence mechanism. Tonight you begin the most important calling of your mission, to save the lives of South Africans,” he told a parade ahead of the midnight lockdown.
Disrupting tradition and adhering to government’s regulations of 100 people per gathering to contain the virus, 100 officers and soldiers were deployed for the President’s send-off message.
“You are required to go out and save the lives of the 57 million South Africans who live in the borders of our country,” Ramaphosa told SANDF members. “A lot rests on your shoulders. As soldiers you took an oath – an oath to be be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and defend the people of South Africa. That oath was not only to defend the people of South Africa against violence war, insurrection but also a danger like the one on our hands now – coronavirus.
“In you our people have a defence mechanism. You are not only the defender of our democracy but the defender of the lives of our people, their health and well-being. Tonight you begin the most important mission of your calling as soldiers, to give life to the people of south Africa and for that reason I say your mission is to restore the lives of the people of South Africa. That is what you are called on to do. You are required to support our police, work with them, walk among our people and defend them against this virus. You are required to do this in the most understanding way, in the most respectful way, in the most supportive way.
“I want after this mission the people of our country must look upon you as the SA National Defence Force and the SA Police Service and know you are the best in the world in that you will have been supportive to them, have given them assurance and have assisted in every way you can,” Ramaphosa said.
In an apparent effort to allay fears of excessive force being used to enforce the stay at home and other lockdown regulations, Ramaphosa repeated what his defence and military veterans minister said a day earlier during a Cabinet security cluster briefing.
“This is not a moment for skop and donner. Throughout the country our people are going to be looking to you. I want you to execute your task with great respect to our people. I have confidence our people will abide by the regulations,” he said.
Ahead of addressing troops, the President called on the SA Police Service College in Pretoria West. He urged the men and women in blue, who will be supported by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) elements to execute their “lifesaving mission with humility and respect”.
“I send you off now to be among our people. I send you to conduct service among our people and shower our people with guidance, advice and leadership.
“Let us make sure we as the police service do not do anything to violate the rights of our people by mistake or unintentionally. Let us go and do right by the people of South Africa and save their lives. This is the hour. This is the moment you trained for,” Ramaphosa said.
He emphasised to police and soldiers the deployment was not one of force, it was for the protection of citizens.
Coinciding with the President’s address, was the announcement of the rise in confirmed coronavirus cases to 927 – an increase of 218 cases from Wednesday. This increased to over 1 000 on Friday, with the first two deaths reported in Western Cape.