The involvement of soldiers in Government’s national anti-crime effort Operation Fiela has been extended and will continue until March 31 next year.
The operation was launched in May following a number of xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng and initial indications were the military deployment would provide cover for police as they patrolled and searched for those responsible.
SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, informed Parliament in April a decision had been taken to deploy 338 soldiers as part of Operation Fiela until the end of June. The involvement of soldiers in the operation was first made public by Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, during a fact-finding visit to Alexandra.
Subsequently the Joint Operations Division said the Operation Fiela deployment would comprise a single, combat ready company made up of three platoons and a headquarters, an SA Military Health Service task team, a Military Police section, one helicopter (type not specified) and a C-130BZ from 28 Squadron on standby at AFB Waterkloof.
The first hands-on involvement of soldiers came when they supported police raids on hostels in the Johannesburg suburbs of Alexandra and Jeppe. They were subsequently seen working alongside police on stop and search patrols in other parts of Johannesburg.
At this time Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said Operation Fiela (Sesotho for “sweep”) was to “rid our country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities”.
The operation is a multi-disciplinary, inter-departmental one with the SA Police Service as the lead agency.
A number of civic organisations, including Lawyers for Human Rights and the military trade union, SA National Defence Union (Sandu), have objected to various aspects of the operation. Sandu’s main beef is that soldiers should not be used to do the work of police.
At the time of publication no confirmation of the extension of the operation had been made public by either the Presidency, the SAPS or the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS). The extension of military involvement in the operation comes from a reliable military source who said a planning meeting around Operation Fiela was scheduled for today (Friday). The source did not have any indication of whether the number of soldiers deployed in support of police would be increased.
In June Phumla Williams acting Cabinet spokesperson said the operation was an initiative to ride South Africa of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities.
She also gave an indication that it would be extended she said: “The government cannot and will not turn a blind eye to acts of criminality. It will continue to act decisively and swiftly to restore law and order. Our actions form part of a plan to give the government space to address socio-economic and security challenges in a structured and co-ordinated manner. Operation Fiela will, therefore, be intensified and expanded in the coming weeks and months”.
The operation has seen more than 4,000 arrests made in all nine provinces to date.