The 441 soldiers who were yesterday informed they would be on security duty in and around Parliament by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, are drawn from the ranks of Eersteriver, Cape Town-based 9 SA Infantry Battalion.
The SANDF’s addition to the safety and security providers for Thursday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) was announced by the Presidency in a terse statement late on Tuesday. It indicated the deployment started on Sunday (February 5) and would last until Friday, February 10.
The SANDF “employment is for service in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS) to maintain law and order for the opening of Parliament where the President will deliver the State of the Nation Address” the statement issued by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga reads.
Indications are the military deployment will take a similar format to that employed when soldiers were deployed to support police actions during Operation Fiela, government’s 2015 anti-xenophobia initiative.
At the time of publication no official confirmation had been received from either the Department of Defence (DoD) or the SANDF on the unit to be deployed but defenceWeb has been reliably informed the Cape Town infantry battalion that was originally the Cape Coloured Corps, will supply troops. Infantry support vehicles including Casspir and Mamba will also be deployed but there will be no infantry fighting vehicles, such as Ratel and Rooikat, on the streets of Cape Town.
The Operation Fiela deployment saw soldiers form the second line of defence with police at the forefront in a nationwide tasking following a number of xenophobic incidents and killings that started in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), via its chief whip, John Steenhuisen, has “condemned, in the strongest possible terms the militarisation of this year’s SONA”. He said he will seek an urgent meeting with National Assembly Speaker, Baleta Mbete, over “this worrying development”.
United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader, retired Transkei general Bantu Holomisa, is reported as saying the deployment of military assets to Parliament was ab abuse of power and a show of force while an Economic Freedom fighters (EFF) statement said the military had no place in the maintenance of law and order.
The Right2Know organisation condemned the “unprecedented security clampdown in and around Parliament as part of the State of the Nation Address” in “the strongest possible terms”.
“The deployment of the army is part of a longer trend of securitisation and militarisation. Each year, we have seen the securocrats ramping up ‘security measures’ around Parliament to new levels – and each time the public is told that this is ‘normal’. Hundreds of police, called from across the country to the streets around Parliament. Barbed wire and water cannons to meet protesters. Riot police to drag out troublemaking MPs. Signal jamming from the State Security Agency. Interference with the television and audio feed. Restrictions on the movement of journalists. Calling in the army is part of that trend,” Right2Know said in a statement. “W are told that this is normal. But there is nothing normal about this.”