No South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers will be deployed within the Parliamentary precinct during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) tonight, the government has said, after widespread criticism about the deployment of 441 SANDF members to maintain law and order.
“We hope that you will by now have seen our statement that was attempting to clarify and make sure there is no confusion about members of the defence force that we are not going to see many or hundreds of the defence force members around the precinct of Parliament,” National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete said yesterday.
“Those people will not be anywhere around Parliament and they are simply going to be allowed to be wherever they ought to be as soldiers,” Mbete said.
The Presidency issued a statement on Tuesday announcing the deployment of 441 members of the SANDF between 5 and 10 February to maintain law and order during the opening of Parliament where the President will deliver the SONA speech.
“The SANDF will not be deployed within the precincts of Parliament and the Chamber. The only time this may happen is when there is a threat to life and property, that is of such a nature that the South African Police Services (SAPS) cannot handle it. Their deployment in this regard will be at the request of the SAPS. In turn, the SAPS can only act at the behest of the presiding officers, except in instances where there is a total breakdown of law and order that threatens life and property,” Parliament said.
“As part of planning for [the SONA address], Parliament engages with the relevant departments in the executive at national, provincial and local levels. These departments include the SANDF, which has a ceremonial role to play. Upon the request of the SAPS, the SANDF is sometimes deployed to support the police in exercising their safety and security function, such as the case in point. When such a request has been made and the president of the Republic has issued a declaratory order, it is procedural that the president advises the Speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), as has occurred. The Speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the NCOP duly table the declaratory order in the Announcement, Tabling and Committee (ATC) reports,” Parliament said.
The SANDF has previously deployed members to SONA, mainly in ceremonial and support functions, but in smaller numbers compared to this year. The personnel deployed for SONA 2017 are coming from the ranks of Eersteriver, Cape Town-based 9 SA Infantry Battalion.
Mbete yesterday said it was “all systems go” and that Parliament was ready to once again host a joint-sitting where Zuma will deliver his speech, which usually sets the scene on government’s plan of action for the year.
The Speaker said attending the State of the Nation Address will be international guests, including a top executive of the World Bank, Former President Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele Mbeki, the former Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, the Mayor of Cape Town and provincial speakers.
Meanwhile, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) has said its security forces are ready to secure the delivery of the State of the Nation Address.
“All departments within the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS), as well as other critical role players, have, in accordance with their mandates, been activated to mobilise the resources necessary to ensure that the SONA is delivered in a safe and secure environment,” NATJOINTS spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said on Wednesday.
NATJOINTS guarantees the people of South Africa that the security deployment, led by the South African Police Service, will execute their mandate without fear or favour in a coordinated and professional manner.
“All law enforcement agencies are urged to operate within the confines of the laws and prescripts of this country, with emphasis on exercising maximum restraint when called upon to act in response to behaviour that contravenes any law,” Naidoo said.
He called on all – including those in attendance, those taking part in authorised protest action, all political parties and structures from all walks of life – to comply with the rules.
Naidoo said it is in the best interest of the country that a conducive environment is created to enable the delivery of the State of the Nation Address.
Naidoo warned that any action aimed at disrupting the SONA or causing inconvenience to any law-abiding citizen will be dealt with accordingly within the ambit of the law.
“The law enforcement agencies will ensure that law enforcement is the order of the day. Lawlessness will not be tolerated. It is important that all laws and regulations are strictly complied with at all times so that this process can unfold in a dignified and befitting manner,” Naidoo said.
Meanwhile, NATJOINTS says the deployment of 441 members of the South African National Defence Force to Parliament to assist police is not an extraordinary measure.
“The SANDF is part and parcel of the JCPS Cluster and the NATJOINTS. Their support role in securing the State of the Nation Address remains critical and they are to be allowed to take their rightful place.”