In October Finance Minister Tito Mboweni told the nation “the military” would be part and parcel of a major clean-up of the Vaal River, setting the tone for the biggest civil/military co-operative effort yet in democratic South Africa.
It is known about two hundred Sappers from the SA Army’s Engineer Formation have set up camp in the Vanderbijlpark reservoir grounds and are repairing infrastructure but the official word is somewhat different.
Brigadier General Nkhabu Abram Nthejane, formation General Officer Commanding, said his command would be “executing tasks partnering with the municipality and the private sector”.
“We are currently not in a position to disclose operational details until the complete plan is finalised,” he said in response to a defenceWeb inquiry, adding the formation would make use of the Reserve Force pool of specialists for “advice during execution”.
He also indicated all units in the formation would be utilised for the Vaal infrastructure repair and refurbish tasking. The units in the formation are the School of Engineers; 2,3 and 19 Field Regiments; 35 Engineer Support Regiment; 1 Construction Regiment; 4 Survey and Map Regiment and 1 Military Printing Regiment.
While the Sappers will do the repair and refurbishment of water infrastructure, such as treatment and purification plants, soldiers from the SA Army Infantry Formation will be deployed as guards. This is to ensure no theft or vandalism takes place. There was, at the time of publication, no indication which infantry battalion has been tasked with the guarding function or when it will be deployed.
“The anticipated duration of the deployment is until October 2019 and there will be no rotation during the deployment.
Colonel Andries Mahapa, Officer Commanding 1 Construction Regiment, is reported by the Sunday Times as saying; “We have been given the instruction that Day Zero cannot happen in Gauteng. We have been told these facilities must be brought back on line”.
According to the national weekly local, provincial and national government officials are working with civilian and military water security experts in an effort to reduce water consumption in Gauteng and repair collapsing sewage treatment plants.
Soldiers have reportedly been deployed to 44 collapsed facilities where they are draining and repairing pump houses.
An NCO is reported by the paper as saying the work they are doing on the banks of the Vaal is the same they did while in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the UN peace support mission.