Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says the national defence force deployed more than 8 000 personnel to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
The Minister said this when she tabled the department’s budget vote during a mini plenary of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
She said the SA National Defence Force has been progressively asked to do more for less for several years now.
The past year, however, was unprecedented. It was, however, a challenge the members who make up this proud national asset, accepted and met with enthusiasm, Mapisa-Nqakula said.
“We were tasked to provide the largest deployment since our democracy in support of the State of National Disaster.
“Not only did we focus on ensuring that citizens adhered to social distancing and the wearing of masks, but we also delivered in many other ways that were unseen.
“The SANDF deployed 8 119 personnel, made up of members of the regular force, reserve force and auxiliary services, in support of other government departments to mitigate and combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The SANDF conducted 12 452 road blocks, 7 800 vehicle-check-points and 35 000 patrols,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the department also responded urgently where needed, providing drinking water and building bridges in remote areas.
Medical professionals were also deployed to areas that were buckling under the strain of the pandemic.
“Notwithstanding this, the department has suffered its own challenges with COVID-19. We have recorded a number of COVID-19 positive cases and fatalities during this pandemic.”
The Minister said it was important to recognise the enormous contribution of the Cuban medical team.
“They conducted just over 79 298 total procedures, significantly improving our ability to save the lives of our members in uniform.
“We will continue to support the Department of Health in the roll-out of the vaccine program. We have availed our air transport and airport facilities to assist in this endeavour,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said, meanwhile, that the department’s budget vote was delivered under a severely constrained fiscus.
“Nonetheless, we must inform this house of the negative impact our declining allocation has had and will continue to have on the Department of Defence in general – our military capabilities in particular and our ability to meet our operational responsibilities assigned to us as well as our international obligations.
“The reduction of over R15 billion over the MTEF has placed us in a very difficult position. Our capital budget has effectively been reduced to a trickle and the operating budget is under extreme pressure,” she said.
She said that under these conditions, the department was finding it very difficult to improve the serviceability of prime mission equipment.
“Whilst we are fully aware of the fiscal challenges that South Africa has, the reduction to our allocation has a devastating impact, not only on the Defence Force, but also our defence industry and defence related industry and the many SMME’s in the supply chain.”