This week saw the Department of Correctional Services launch its annual campaign to ensure the country’s prison population remain behind bars for the festive season and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) along with national and metro police have been roped in to assist.
One who has reservations about this latest call for soldiers to do work other than what they have been trained for is opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais.
He maintains there should be no need for either the defence force or police to help Correctional Services personnel do the job they are trained and paid for – keeping prisoners behind bars.
“A scheduled meeting of the Defence Portfolio Committee has been postponed and I will have to wait until it happens to get answers,” he told defenceWeb, adding “information at my disposal indicates the defence force will not have to deploy extra soldiers to help”.
“Indications are the SANDF will be involved in Operation Vala as part of the existing border protection deployment, Operation Corona. If that turns out to be the case fine and well but if extra soldiers are going to be deployed to directly support Correctional Services, questions will be asked,” he said, referring to the deployment of soldiers to support police in Operation Fiela, government’s anti-xenophobia operation which turned into a national anti-crime operation.
“Soldiers on border protection will have an extra duty – keeping a weather eye out for escaped prisoners – for the duration of Operation Vala. If that is going to be the only SANDF involvement one would have to grudgingly concede it but it doesn’t seem right that either the defence force or the police should assist Correctional Services to do their work.
“It was not right for soldiers to be involved in Fiela and if Vala goes the same way questions will be asked,” he said.
This year will be the tenth time Correctional Services beefs up security over the festive season.
SAnews reports Correctional Services Chief Deputy Commissioner James Smallburger as saying the campaign was started when statistics showed the majority of escapes happened towards or during the festive season. This year Operation Vala will run from November 25 to January 14.
He confirmed the involvement of “a number of law enforcement agencies” to assist with curbing escapes over this period.