SANDF tight-lipped on illegal mining deployment

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is keeping its cards close to its chest as far as what and where its personnel are as part of the national anti-illegal mining operation currently underway.

defenceWeb was informed, when asking for information on the deployment of the SA Army Light Modern Brigade (LMB): “The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) does not give out details of the units that are operationally deployed. Similarly, no information of where the forces are based or operating from due to operational security reasons”.

This response from the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) effectively closed the “official” door on the involvement of soldiers and other SANDF elements such as helicopters and aircrews.

One who is not impressed is Kobus Marais. The outspoken Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister told defenceWeb he was informed soldiers are doing well and “made great strides” in the national effort to rein in illegal miners. While appreciative of the need not to divulge sensitive operational information, he maintains it should be the exception and not the general rule.

“The media must be allowed a certain amount of transparency,” he said, as this would be in the best interests of a healthy civil/military relationship.

Puzzling to him is the widespread use of social media by the SA Police Service (SAPS) to make known arrests and equipment confiscated as well as TV interviews with officers, including Brigadier General Marcelino Peter Seroko, the SA Army general officer seemingly commanding the illegal mining SANDF task force.

“It’s ironic, in view of the official no information line, that SANDF and SAPS leaders are on national TV reporting findings, revelations and successes,” Marais said, adding positive use of SANDF deployments, wherever they are and whatever is achieved, should be disseminated widely.

This, he feels, ties in with comments by current defence and military veterans minister, Thandi Modise, and her predecessor, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, that South Africans should decide on the defence force they want. “Good call, but it’s difficult to decide when information isn’t freely available.”

Also concerned is Stellenbosch University professor Lindy Heinecken. She has a specific interest in civil/military relations and notes on the zama zama deployment it widens the knowledge and cultural gap between society and the military. “This affects support and funding,” she told defenceWeb.

She sees the basic reason for the lack of engagement by the SANDF with the media and South Africa at large as a way of hiding “own incompetence and inadequacies”, stressing some are not of own doing and can be “put down to a dearth of leadership”.

Cyril Xaba, co-chair of both Parliament’s defence oversight committees, when asked for comment said he couldn’t. He told defenceWeb the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) had not met SANDF leadership since the “deployment papers” were presented, adding the information sought was “operational”.

“We never drill down to that level of detail unless it is in a closed meeting and a concern has been received,” he said.