Operation Notlela, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment in support of the national state of disaster, does not confine soldiers to enforcing lockdown regulations – they assist police in “addressing all aspects of criminality”.
This is what soldiers were doing in Chochocho village near Acornhoek in Mpumalanga earlier this month. According to the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF, soldiers accompanied police who were tasked with “dispersing community members allegedly meting out mob justice to a suspect” when a soldier apparently acting in self-defence shot and killed a gun-wielding local.
Questions to Joint Operations brought to light the national defence force deployment under the Operation Notlela tasking, sees soldiers and police as “law enforcement agencies working hand in hand to address all criminality during this period and not only COVID-19 related matters”.
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais is of the opinion containment of crowd violence could be interpreted as part of SANDF support to the SA Police Service.
“Soldiers are supposed to operate under the command of police and should not engage civilians unless [it is] absolutely inevitable. Even then it must be to protect and support police engaging with civilians,” he said, adding military training when it comes to interaction with civilians was “extremely limited”.
“The danger, in a tense situation with civilians, is conventional training takes over resulting in elimination of an ‘enemy’.
“Soldiers should only protect police and assist with cordoning off areas, manning roadblocks in support of police and assisting other government agencies and departments in humanitarian relief operations,” he said.
This co-operation against “criminality” explains soldiers patrolling at least four parts of the Cape Flats known to be “high gang violence areas” in the first weekend of July.
Soldiers were first deployed to the Cape Flats last July on a six month mission in support of police tasked with minimising gang violence. That was extended to the end of March when the military mission was changed with implementation of the national state of disaster. The 4/5 July patrols confirm police and soldiers still deploy jointly to fight crime.
Soldiers assisted police arresting suspects and seizing drugs and contraband. For example, on 9 July the SANDF and police set up roadblocks on the N2 highway near Pongola and arrested three men for possessing over six kg of dagga.
In mid-July, SANDF soldiers supported the Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to assist in combating arson and poaching in Stutterheim in Eastern Cape.