SANDF missed a prime communication opportunity with the Wuhan Mission


The Wuhan Mission, as it will probably go down in South African history, was an excellent example of the best South Africans can offer.

At the same time it, instead of being a public relations coup for those allegedly tasked with communication in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), was treated almost as a non-event or mission.

This impression was reinforced when the head of communications in the Department of Defence (DoD) told this publication it “is standard SANDF security policy not to announce or discuss matters related to security protocols for any operation”. All defenceWeb wanted was the names of units from SA Military Health Services (SAMHS) involved as well as which – presumably – SA Army unit/s would be tasked with guarding the Limpopo quarantine site.

The Presidential letter informing Parliament of the deployment of SANDF personnel for the Wuhan Mission indicated 151 people would take part.

One who feels the Wuhan Mission could have been better handled to show the SANDF is indeed “a defence force for the people” is Democratic Alliance MP Kobus Marais. He is entrusted with the defence and military veterans portfolio in the party’s shadow cabinet and is well informed about matters military. As an example late last year he made public the theft of military weapons from the SA Army Tek Base in Centurion. This initially drew only muted response from the DoD which subsequently issued a statement condemning the theft and calling those apparently involved “unpatriotic” and “thugs”.

On Wuhan, Marais maintains the national defence force’s image was “tarnished” even before the chartered SAA aircraft took off from OR Tambo International Airport en route to China.

“The fake news that assigned SANDF members reluctant to be part of the mission should have been strongly refuted by the DoD and the SANDF. It was not, with GCIS (Government Communication and Information Service) doing the job. I personally did not believe it because soldiers and those who serve their country in uniform are s exposed to life-threatening conditions and situations in the course of their duties.

“This humanitarian mission would have been a great opportunity to reassure South Africans the defence force retains critical capabilities at a time when many are of the opinion the national defence capability is severely compromised.”

As far as security of the mission is concerned Marais pointed out he and many others followed the flight on the Internet. Additionally, the chartered SAA Airbus A340-600 was given a SA Air Force (SAAF) callsign – LMG755 – for the flight making it easier to follow. This was reinforced by a poster on the Avcom website who noted: “It makes me incredibly proud to see an SAA bird with an LMG callsign carrying our citizens away from danger. Hats off to everyone. Bravo Zulu!”

“I have no problem with classified and sensitive information not being made public but the Wuhan Mission, had the DoD been more open with South Africans, was an opportunity to explain and display the value of SAHMS, a critical part of the people’s defence force.

“Overall, Wuhan was an opportunity not to be missed in explaining the value of a properly resourced defence force to South Africans and the critical role it has in, among others, disasters, threats to national sovereignty and the security of citizens.

“I personally am proud of the skills shown and the sacrifices and commitments made by SANDF staff. We, as a nation, should be humbled by the manner in which the SANDF stepped up to serve all South Africans during the mission and the subsequent quarantine period,” he said.