The coronavirus pandemic saw the single largest deployment of military personnel in democratic South Africa’s existence to date.
By far the majority of those deployed, or to use Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa’s word “employed”, to enforce regulations instituted as part of the national state of disaster, were soldiers mostly from SA Army Infantry Formation units.
The other major contributor to the OOTW (operations other than war) effort under the Operation Notlela tasking came from Lieutenant General Zola Dabula’s SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) communications directorate was not forthcoming with deployment numbers, where and exactly what soldiers and military medics were doing during Notlela. This has, to a certain extent, been remedied in the latest edition of SA Soldier, the official monthly magazine of the South African Department of Defence.
According to acting editor Lufuno Netshirembe, 39 primary healthcare teams totalling 185 SAMHS personnel were deployed in all nine South Africa’s provinces. Thirty-six doctors, 84 nurses and 65 auxiliary staff made up the military medical teams supporting the National Department of Health in its COVID-19 curbing programme.
“Scanning teams of 165 medical staff deployed with SA National Defence Force (SANDF) units in all nine provinces. They performed thermal scans on the populace during patrols at vehicle checkpoints and roadblocks. More than 800 000 people were scanned. The SANDF performed scanning and screening on its own members,” he wrote.
All told this indicates 350 SAMHS personnel were part of the SANDF response to the national state of disaster.
Another component of the national defence force’s contribution to containing the coronavirus pandemic saw personnel “assist and provide with establishment of additional bed quarantine facilities. The SANDF further assisted with administrative duties including data capturing of medical records, general running of hospitals including providing scanning orderlies, drivers, porters, human resources administration, finance administration, Q-marshals, cleaning and sanitising services and safety and security services at overburdened hospitals,” SA Soldier reports.