Soldiers again called on to protect power infrastructure

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It’s once more unto the breach, to use Shakespeare, for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) with Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa again authorising “employment” of 880 soldiers to “safeguard” Eskom power stations.

The latest utilisation of uniformed defence personnel started on 17 April and will run to 17 October an official Presidency statement, issued on Saturday 6 May, has it. It notes the South African president informed National Assembly (NA) Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Amos Masondo, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chair, of the “employment”.

This is the third time in six months SANDF elements have been assigned a protection of the national power supply infrastructure tasking.

The first started in mid-December and saw 2 700 military personnel, believed to be mostly infantry from regular and reserve units, activated for Eskom protection. At that time the deployment mandate had it soldiers will, among others, protect national key points and critical infrastructure “with specific reference to declared hotspot areas”. They were also mandated to undertake patrols; preserve life and protect property; operate roadblocks and vehicle control points (VCPs); as well as undertake cordon and search operations. All taskings were done in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS) with this extended to the repeated deployment.

In line with SANDF standard operating procedure (SOP) the deployment saw rotations which had 442 soldiers on active duty with the balance in reserve and training.  The Presidential announcement makes no mention of the number of soldiers active and where they will be sited apart from stating “around the country”.

Eskom protection deployment number two, according to The Presidency, was from 17 March to 17 April.

All three are Operation Prosper deployments.

As with previous deployments soldiers and police will protect Eskom power stations “where sabotage, theft and other crimes may threaten functioning of power stations and supply of electricity”.

The six-month utilisation of SANDF assets is expected to cost R 146 718 427.

By February, national defence force communication officers reported 48 suspects apprehended and handed to either Eskom security or police at six power stations in Mpumalanga.