2 800 soldiers deployed for coronavirus lockdown


President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the deployment of 2 820 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to help contain the COVID-19 coronavirus.

This is according to a letter sent by President Cyril Ramaphosa to the speaker of the National Assembly on Wednesday, informing Parliament of the deployment of the SANDF, who are assisting the police in enforcing the 21-day lockdown effective midnight Thursday.

“Members of the SANDF will be employed in all nine (9) provinces. This employment is authorised in accordance with Section 210(2)(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 and Section 18(1) of the Defence Act, 2002,” the president writes in the letter, which was tabled on Thursday.

Ramaphosa added that the SANDF will be deployed from 26 March to 26 June.

“The expenditure expected to be incurred for this employment is R641 200 290,” the letter states. However, this may be a mistake as it is highly unlikely it will cost more than half a billion Rand to deploy under 3 000 soldiers. For example, deploying soldiers to the Western Cape for three months to combat gangsterism and other crimes cost the SANDF R35 million.

defenceWeb suspects the President meant R64 million, not R641 million – deploying some 1 300 soldiers to the Western Cape for six months last year cost R64 million, for example.

Cases of coronavirus in South Africa passed 1 000 on Friday, the health ministry said, while also reporting its first two deaths on the first day of the three-week, nationwide lockdown.

“This morning, we South Africans wake up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19,” the health ministry said in a statement, adding cases had risen to more than 1 000, from 927 on Thursday.

Both deaths had occurred in the southernmost province of Western Cape, with one in a public hospital and the other in a private hospital, the statement read.

The 21-day lockdown came into force at midnight on Thursday, and largely confines people to their homes aside from specific purposes like buying food or for health emergencies.

However, local media on Friday morning showed pictures of bustling streets and long queues outside supermarkets in poor townships – where cramped, squalid conditions make social distancing near impossible, and mean the virus could spread quickly among people reliant on an ailing public health system.