Reserves called up to boost civil unrest deployment soldier numbers


That, to quote African Defence Review (ADR) director Darren Olivier, “the cupboard is empty” in response to yesterday’s announcement of a 25 000 strong soldier deployment was further emphasised by a call for all SA Army Reserves to report at “first light” today (Thursday, 15 July).

The call, in the form of a two-sentence media statement, was issued by the Senior Staff Officer, Corporate Communications of the landward force, Colonel Sammy Mosiano.

Under the heading: “Urgent! Immediate reporting to units” the statement reads: “As directed by Chief of the SA Army, Lieutenant General Lawrence Khulekani Mbatha all Reserve Members are to report for duty at First Light tomorrow morning 15 July 2021 at their respective units. The members to report ready with their necessary equipment”.

Olivier notes this is the first all hands call-up for Army Reserves since the 1994 election.

Following meetings which, among others, saw President Cyril Ramaphosa meet political leaders in efforts to find a solution of some sort to the current spate of looting, rioting and violence concentrated on Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) met virtually to hear Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and national defence force officers explain the how’s what’s, where’s and why’s of the massive military deployment.

With soldiers now either on the ground or en route to the affected provinces political parties have advice on how best to use this manpower.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen maintains the additional boots on the ground in particularly KwaZulu-Natal should be used to protect food, fuel and medical security in the province. This was, to a certain extent, echoed by Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald. In a statement issued after the Ramaphosa meeting he stressed the civil unrest situation was “extremely serious” and swift action is needed to regain control at hotspots.

In addition to more soldiers on the ground, Groenewald pointed to the necessity for safeguarding major roads carrying food, fuel and medicine. “These must be heavily guarded and patrolled,” he said even as the Cedara/Harrismith sector of the N3 linking Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal remained closed.

Steenhuisen wants SANDF armoured vehicles, helicopters and troops used optimally in the east coast province. This, he said in a statement, would see protection of provincial food security and supply chains with the same for medical supply chains, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Of the military deployment, ten times more than Monday’s announcement of 2 500 soldiers to support police, Olivier is on record as saying it “reaches the very back of the cupboard” and will take “everything that moves, no matter cost or sustainability”.

Calling it a “reflection of how desperate the situation is” he points out the activation of so many uniformed personnel “leaves nothing in reserve and halts all other SANDF duties and commitments”.

There was, at the time of publishing, no indication of any possible deployment of South African soldiers to Mozambique as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC)  rapid deployment force (RDF) as a precursor to a regional bloc multi-national brigade. Some reports had it the South African contingent of the RDF would go to Mozambique today (Thursday) but no confirmation is forthcoming from either South Africa’s Department of Defence (DoD) or the regional grouping.