While alarmist cries of “tanks in the townships” at commencement of the coronavirus lockdown never materialised, questions have and are still asked about armed soldiers enforcing its numerous regulations, some now declared unconstitutional.
Respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman rightly points out South Africa is not under a state of emergency.
“It is a presidentially declared state of national disaster and the question has to be asked: why are soldiers patrolling with R4s?”
“The soldiers’ primary effort should be to persuade people to abide by the restrictions, not force them to do so at gunpoint. Personally, I would not want them to go unarmed. Given how violent townships can be and perhaps, that most soldiers are not properly trained with handguns, the infantry at least should be trained on shotguns and anti-riot ammunition and some on the 37mm riot gun.
“Why not issue those with one or two designated marksmen carrying R4s?” he asks answering, in part, there are insufficient shotguns.
“An option might be riot batons with the shotgun and R4 armed troops providing protection – if needed.”
Heitman has a closing comment on the “corrective PT” allegedly handed out to people disobeying lockdown regulations which will ring a bell with those familiar with the conscription days of the former SA Defence Force (SADF).
“It is almost certainly not strictly legal, but I think more a case of soldiers being practical, given the alternatives are to let people go, laughing off restrictions and defeating the purpose of patrols, or to arrest them. This ties up personnel in taking them to police stations for booking and the rest as well as overcrowding cells and later prisons.
“More to the point, it leaves people with a criminal record they do not deserve. I know if I was caught breaking regulations and given the choice of a few bunny hops (at my age and fitness level two or three is about it!) and being laughed at by bystanders, I would not enjoy it but would definitely choose that over arrest, time in cells and a criminal record. And having been laughed at, I would be disinclined to try my luck again.”