Notwithstanding its greater personnel numbers and bigger budget, the SA Police Service (SAPS) appears to have inadequate capacity throughout South Africa, a seasoned defence observer responds to the latest reported call from police for military assistance.
The latest round of calls from police for soldiers to assist in the execution of crime fighting and investigation started in December when police reportedly asked for assistance from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in tracking down suspects sought for the murder of seven people in Mount Ayliff, Eastern Cape, on Christmas Day. There has been no indication, to date, of soldiers deployed to the Eastern Cape hinterland by either the national defence force or police management in the post-Christmas period.
Earlier this week Police Minister Bheki Cele was reported as saying: “We expect to be reinforced by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist SA Police Service (SAPS) members to enforce regulations that say people should not be on the beaches”. This was during a visit to Garden Route beaches closed in terms of the national state of disaster. Again there has been no announcement or statement from the Presidency, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, the Department of Defence (DoD) or the national defence force on any Garden Route deployment.
Elaborating on the “inadequacy” of police, opposition Democratic Alliance parliamentarians Kobus Marais (defence and military veterans) and Andrew Whitfield (police) bluntly stated for police to ask “the army” for help with what should be basic policing responsibilities is “tantamount to an admission of failure”.
As far as the responsibilities of the national defence force go, both shadow ministers see maintenance of territorial integrity and keeping South African citizens safe from foreign threat as major.
“This,” Marais points out, “must be guided by the Constitution and include all air, land and sea borders as well as the country’s exclusive economic zone and complying with international obligations and responsibilities”.
He adds the SANDF is obligated to assist wherever possible in natural or manmade disasters, rescue missions (on land and at sea) and humanitarian relief. While the national defence force, as an instrument of government, can be utilised in other ways, support to the police service should be low on the priority list.
Whitfield is of the opinion police management should only call on the national defence force in an “extreme” situation which has to be narrowly defined given the differences in training and execution of tasks between the force, on one hand and a service on the other.