SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel have been part of “securing critical infrastructure” in the form of Eskom power stations and ancillary equipment for over a year and are set to be on site, as it were, until March.
The deployment of mainly infantry, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise told a Parliamentary questioner, was at “the instruction of the Head of State (President Cyril Ramaphosa)”. It was “necessitated by acts of theft and vandalism which contributed to energy shortages”, ANC (African National Congress) public representative Thabo Mmutle was informed.
Modise’s written response further indicates the deployment of soldiers “enabled Eskom to repair, maintain and secure power stations”. The presence of soldiers at Eskom facilities, the minister maintains, “contributed to reducing load shedding and enabled government to continue work toward stabilising and increasing the energy action plan (EAP)”.
The deployment is yet another undertaken by the SANDF in its standing Operation Prosper tasking following Presidential authorisation. The operation, as per the Joint Operations Division, sees military personnel involved in safety and security operations of “national and international importance”. The majority of Prosper deployments are in support of National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola’s SA Police Service (SAPS) with the first an anti-gang one in the Western Cape province in 2019.
Mmutle was further told by Modise the SANDF and Department of Defence (DoD) “as a whole, continue to deploy and conduct operations” with available resources and capabilities. These include “extensive use” of Reserve Force personnel leading to increased mandays for part-time soldiers and more funding having to be allocated to the compensation of employment (CoE) budget.
CoE, she added, was discussed and “hopefully” the DoD will be reimbursed or refunded by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), under which Eskom resorts as a State-owned enterprise (SOE), “through the assistance of National Treasury (NT)”.
When the Eskom deployment first became public, it was reported that Majuba, Camden, Grootvlei and Tutuka power stations – all in Mpumalanga – would have a minimum of 10 soldiers each. Official authorisation came at the end of January in Government Gazette number 47920 confirming the “employment of 2 700 SANDF members for the preservation of law and order under Operation Prosper”. Then the deployment period was stipulated as 16 December 2022 to 6 March 2023 with “specific reference to declared hotspot areas” such as national key points and critical infrastructure.
The deployment is authorised to undertake patrols; preserve life and protect property; operate roadblocks and vehicle control points (VCPs); as well as undertake cordon and search operations. All are done in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS).