SANDF rapid response capability unit mooted

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The use of soldiers to assist police in South Africa is not uncommon and it now appears the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will establish a rapid response capability unit.

This is according to the latest available SA Yearbook (2021/22) published by Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). The applicable extract from the “Police, Defence and Intelligence” component reads: “The public unrest in July 2021 highlighted the need to strengthen law enforcement agencies, including the SANDF to ensure they are equipped to respond quickly to such incidents. To this end, the department plans to set up a rapid response capability unit, which will support the SAPS (SA Police Service) when needed, with a brigade of between 2 000 and 5 000 soldiers, comprising paratroopers and members of the South African Air Force and South African Military Health Service. The unit will be set up at a projected cost of R50 million in 2022/23 in the Force Employment programme”.

One who takes an objective view of military matters in South Africa and elsewhere is respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman whose first response to a defenceWeb inquiry was “I’m not particularly happy because ideally the military should be kept out of internal law enforcement tasks”.

He continues pointing out the SAPS “is small and clearly not particularly well led or even managed, as well as lacking, for instance, the mobility air force helicopters can provide”.

“Most countries will call in the military if an unrest situation slides beyond control of local police and most armies train soldiers in basic riot control techniques and have some level of liaison with relevant police officers.

“Similarly, most countries will also use their militaries to help with security, medical and other major events such as WEF (World Economic Forum) conferences, large sporting events et al, mainly because there will never be enough police to handle such situations.

“At present the Army is, I believe, required to have a company on short notice standby in each province for police support work.

“I would not want to establish a special unit, let alone a formation like a brigade for this role, but there would in South Africa’s current situation be logic and good sense in having a planning cell at JOps (Joint Operations Division) with provincial liaison officers – that can be a dual hat appointment – to ensure immediate functioning local liaison.

“The combination of paratroops, helicopters or transport aircraft and medics makes sense, because paratroops are the army standby unit and available at short notice to back up the local company.”

On the projected cost of R50 million – “I presume annual” – Heitman noted it looked more like a planning cell arrangement rather than actually standing up any new unit, which would cost far more.