South Africans, notably in urban areas with high population concentrations as well as those using major roads, are all aware of an increased military presence thanks to the threat posed by COVID-19 and last month’s violent civil unrest.
The deployment of soldiers was activated by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), in response to a perceived threat to human life, property and infrastructure at the height of the July unrest.
Prior to that soldiers and other military personnel, mostly healthcare practitioners, found themselves at the forefront of the ongoing battle against the coronavirus. SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel were – and still are – assisting with vaccinations of civilians generally and SANDF personnel at sites in all nine provinces.
Soldiers on active duty, both regulars and reserves, are mostly from the SA Army Infantry Formation, although units and regiments from other formations and services have also supported police actions.
This is the major component of the current and just-finished Operation Prosper activation. The operation is an ongoing one with the national defence force providing assistance, in whatever form it can, to other government departments and agencies, usually during emergencies or disasters, natural or manmade.
The use of soldiers to provide perimeter security for police during search and cordon operations, roadblocks and other crime prevention actions sees men and women in camouflage backing soldiers at locations as varied as residential areas, highways and toll plazas, shopping centres and malls as well as critical infrastructure such as power stations, ports and rail lines.
Recent examples include Ratels on the N3 linking Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal; foot patrols in Johannesburg’s central business district while police searched for and confiscated counterfeit goods and taxi ranks in a number of provinces.
A Bellville, Cape Town taxi rank cordon and search mission saw R89 500 worth of counterfeit goods confiscated; 336 vehicles, 650 people and seven buildings searched. Apart from soldiers and police, this particular mission also involved metro police, border control and crime intelligence as well as elements of the SAPS canine unit.
An example of military/police co-operation in executing Operation Prosper orders was in the Inanda area of KwaZulu-Natal. This saw men and women in blue and camouflage running vehicle checkpoints and enforcing disaster management regulations.
Another tasking in the coastal province saw a military show of force in vehicles and manpower to bring home the need for law and order post the violent and fatal civil unrest.
The number of soldiers now on active Operation Prosper duty is down to 10 000 from a high of 25 000 while the ongoing border protection tasking – Operation Corona – still runs at its standard complement of 15 companies, mostly infantry both regulars and reserves, boosted as and when needed by other formations such as armour.
This tasking, a SANDF LinkedIn correspondent has it, is to deter cross-border criminal activities, such as illegal cross-border movements of undocumented persons, dagga, contraband, counterfeit goods, vehicle smuggling and livestock theft.
A 14 SA Infantry Battalionpatrol currently on station along the KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border intercepted two vehicles bound for the chop shops and export harbours of South Africa’s eastern neighbour. The vehicles – a Toyota Hilux and a Toyota CHR – are jointly valued at R1 million and were recovered in villages close to the international border.