The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has detailed the extent of its contribution to Operation Notlela to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, from water purification to patrols, screening and testing.
In a presentation to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on 27 August, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, Chief of Joint Operations Division, detailed the SANDF’s involvement in coronavirus control measures.
He revealed that 8 076 SANDF members are employed on Operation Notlela duties, including 36 sub-unit (24 from the regular force and 12 from the reserves). In addition, 279 Scarce Skills Volunteers have indicated their interest to provide their services and 35 doctors and 40 nurses have received appointment letters.
As part of Notlela, the SANDF provides decontamination services, assistance with food parcel distribution, COVID-19 awareness education, scanning, screening centres, water purification and assistance to other government departments.
Scanning teams consist of 165 medical staff members deployed with SANDF units in all nine provinces. These medical staff members are performing thermal scans on the population during patrols, vehicle check point and roadblocks. In the last three months, more than 700 000 people have been scanned, including 60 000 in August. The SANDF has screened nearly 550 000 people, including nearly 60 000 in August. In the last three months the SANDF carried out 700 000 scans on its own forces and screened 107 000 members.
A total of 39 SANDF primary healthcare teams comprising 185 members (36 doctors, 84 nurses and 65 auxiliary staff) have been deployed to all nine provinces to support the National Department of Health with its mass screening and testing initiative. The teams make use of tented primary health care facilities which enable them to screen and test those members of the population that would otherwise have had to be transported to such screening and testing venues. These teams are deployed in both urban and rural areas or to areas where no infrastructures exist.
In addition, five decontamination teams consisting of 43 members are on standby to assist with decontamination on request. The teams continue to provide decontamination services to outbreak areas.
In Gauteng, the SANDF is assisting with the establishment of additional 50 bed ICU/Hi-Care facilities at the Sebokeng and Jubilee Hospitals. These facilities were due to be ready for occupation by the end of August. The SANDF is also assisting with administrative support in the form of data capturing of medical records at 15 overburdened hospitals in the province, including Baragrwanath and Charlotte Maxeke.
With Charlotte Maxeke, the SANDF is assisting with the general running of the hospital including the provision of scanning orderlies, drivers, porters, HR administration, finance administration, Q-marshalls, cleaning and sanitising services, and safety and security services.
In the Eastern Cape, the SANDF has just rotated the multi-disciplinary team of 54 members that was deployed to assist the Eastern Cape Department of Health. A total of eight doctors from part of this group. Twenty-five professional nursing officers and 13 enrolled nursing assistants form the nursing component of the group. Five paramedics and one occupational health and safety officer make up the rest of the 54-strong delegation. The delegation is seconded under the command by two officers.
The SANDF is also assisting with administrative support in the form of data capturing of medical records at the Eastern Cape’s Cecilia Makiwane Hospital.
A total of 180 engineers from the South African National Defence Force are deployed to all nine provinces in support of Department of Water and Sanitation (DW&S). The team provides water purification support and distribution to the areas where there is a dire need for drinking water.
A total of 16.4 million litres water has been purified of which 15 million litres have been delivered to the needy over the last three months.
Soldiers have enforced compliance of regulations with the South African Police Service and are deployed at roadblocks and vehicle control points. They also carry out foot and vehicle patrols. Over the last three months, the SANDF has set up 600 roadblocks, 1 100 vehicle control points and carried out more than 4 000 patrols. In this time it has issued fines worth R1.8 million, arrested more than 4 000 people, seized 318 weapons, drugs worth R2.8 million and contraband worth R73 million. The drugs included 219 kg of dagga, 313 woonga tablets, 13 mandrax tablets and 21 tik sachets.
The SANDF also confiscated tobacco products, alcohol and counterfeit goods.
A variety of vehicles are used in Operation Notlela include troop carriers, diesel and water bunkers, cargo and recovery trucks, field workshops, ambulances and military police vehicles. Vehicle serviceability stands at around 86%.
The South African Air Force has availed a medium transport fixed wing aircraft, four light transport fixed wing aircraft, four medium transport rotary wing aircraft, and four light transport rotary wing aircraft for Notlela, according to Joint Operations. These aircraft are believed to include the C-130 Hercules, C212, Oryx and A109. Serviceability stands at around 93%.
Joint Operations said the involvement of the SANDF in the national fight against the COVID-19 pandemic contributes to the wellbeing of many South African citizens and although at times unpopular and sometimes unthankful, definitely helped curb the spread of the virus.
“It is clear that the SANDF has the will and capacity to respond to national disasters at short notice and when called upon. The SANDF, however, needs to revisit resourcing of critical capabilities and enablers to enable rapid and effective response,” Joint Operations said.
Operation Notlela has been extended until 30 September at an expected expenditure of R1.5 billion.