The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is, along with police and metro law enforcement officers, at the forefront of enforcing national state of disaster regulations to prevent coronavirus spread.
Armed soldiers in camouflage fatigues dutifully masked and gloved are seen supporting law enforcement at roadblocks, in townships and suburbs as well as providing back-up in potentially dangerous and law-breaking situations. One example was Acornhoek in Mpumalanga last month where soldiers supported police in preventing mob justice being meted out to an alleged offender.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veteran minister Kobus Marais has, almost since the lockdown started 131 days ago (today, 4 August), been trying to establish the screening and testing procedures in place for soldiers and other military personnel deployed as part of Operation Notlela. To date his efforts have not been successful.
Another Parliamentarian, Freedom Front Plus (FF+) health spokesman Philip van Staden has similarly run into the proverbial brick wall when trying to find out what, if anything is done as far as testing of illegal immigrants and the soldiers apprehending them as part of Operation Corona, the national border protection tasking.
It’s not only politicians wanting to know how South Africa’s soldiers are cared for when it comes to the pandemic they provide protection for the wider population from.
The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) wants the SANDF senior command structure to keep it – and all in uniform – informed of screening, testing, positive cases and in the worst case scenario, deaths.
As of this week, nothing’s changed according to Marais.
“I still have no response to questions on these issues,” he said adding Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) was informed field hospitals would be erected at 1, 2 and 3 military hospitals in Thaba Tshwane, Cape Town and Bloemfontein with a fourth going up at a site in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We were not told anything else and the presumption is the KZN site will be the former Natal Command in Durban.”
Following up on information regarding apparent positive COVID-19 cases at Fort Ikapa military base in Cape Town’s Acacia Park, Marais was told personnel slept in hangars.
“They apparently could not be kept apart and some were moved to 9 SA Infantry Battalion at Eerste Rivier, also in Cape Town, with others going to a temporary facility at Youngsfield. More than that I haven’t been able to find out.”
He will continue pushing for answers because “the lives of our soldiers do matter”.
“They are on the frontline and deserve the best possible treatment to keep them healthy and safe.”