The power to call in and deploy the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) when a national state of disaster is declared appear to rest with the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).
This impression is given by regulations published in the Government Gazette (number 43107) under the authorisation of Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to combat and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in South Africa. Previous internal national defence force deployments, such as in support of crime prevention on the Cape Flats, were authorised by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The regulations pertaining to the national state of disaster run to 28 pages, in two official languages, and include definitions, resources, donor funding, prevention and prohibition of gatherings, refusing medical examination, quarantine sites, closure of schools and limiting distribution and consumption of alcohol.
One of the definitions is that of an “enforcement officer” which can be a member of either the SANDF or the SA Police Service (SAPS) or “a peace officer as defined in section one of the Criminal Procedure Act”.
As far as government resources to assist in containing the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) declared pandemic, the Department of Defence (DoD) rates first mention with two wide-ranging demands.
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department and the SANDF “must for the declared national state of disaster release and mobilise any available resources, including human resources, stores, equipment, ships, aircraft platforms, vehicles and facilities; and ensure the delivery of essential services”.
At the time of publication there was no indication of any national defence force resource including healthcare professionals from SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) being tasked with coronavirus related work. This is apart from SAMHS staff and SA Army soldiers at The Ranch quarantine facility outside Polokwane in Limpopo and those assisting with screening at some ports of entry.
DoD head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini was reported at the weekend as saying since the repatriation of South Africans from Wuhan in China the military has been planning for all eventualities. “We are waiting for the multidisciplinary team leading government’s response to say there is a need for the defence force to enter. We will abide. We are part of planning throughout and part of meetings daily,” he reportedly said.