Since the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was authorised to assist police in initially preventing violent xenophobic attacks just over three months ago, a reported 9,098 people have been arrested during various Operation Fiela patrols and raids.
With the deployment of soldiers internally, as part of what government is now terming a crime fighting operation, being extended to the end of March next year, questions are again being asked.
The Right2Know campaign has written to President Jacob Zuma asking him to supply reasons for the continued employment of the defence force; where soldiers are being employed; the number of people involved and confirmation of the period the SANDF is “expected” to be employed in Operation Fiela in support of the police.
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard is also unhappy about the continued use of soldiers inside the country.
“The DA has long held the party will only support the deployment of the defence force within our borders in exceptional circumstances and in line with section 201(2)(a) ‘in co-operation with the police service’.
“With xenophobic attacks having subsided it is critical that we know the status of Operation Fiela arrests as well as the operation in its entirety,” she said.
According to Kohler Barnard, more than 9,000 arrests have been made across all nine provinces during Operation Fiela to date and she wants to know where these people are.
“A reply to a DA parliamentary question has revealed Minister Nhleko has no idea what the status of 9,098 detainees arrested is. If the Minister can tell Parliament, with certainty, there were over 9,000 people arrested as a result of Operation Fiela to date, it should be a simple task for him and his colleagues in Cabinet to furnish the public with the details of these arrests.”
Responding to the Police Minister’s response that the information is not readily available she maintains this is “inexplicable, given that Operation Fiela is so high profile government deemed it necessary for it to be supported by the SANDF”.
At the time of publication no information about the extension of military involvement in Fiela had been made public by the Presidency.
The initial authorisation of military involvement was for 338 soldiers comprising a single combat ready infantry company, a SA Military Health Services task team, a Military Police section, a helicopter and a C-130BZ on standby at AFB Waterkloof.
Department of Defence (DoD) head of communications (HOC) Siphiwe Dlamini was quoted as saying “the extension allows the army to assist the police in the coming months without the administrative hassle of going through the process for another deployment”.
He said the SANDF would not continually be seen on the streets, but if and when the need arises they will assist the SAPS. “It does not mean we will be on the streets every day, 24-hours, for that period,” he emphasised.