Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Pretoria: The Joint Standing Committee on Defence has unanimously supported the employment of additional members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist government’s intervention in the fight against COVID-19.

On Thursday, the committee considered a number of letters from President Cyril Ramaphosa on the employment of the SANDF.

The President is compelled — in terms Section 201 (3) of the Constitution and Section 18 (2) of the Defence Act (No 42 of 2002) — to inform Parliament regarding the reasons, place, number of soldiers, cost involved, as well as the period of employment – to which Parliament must apply its mind and express its view.

Committee chairperson Cyril Xaba said the committee is satisfied by the reasons given and the necessity to employ an additional 73 180 members of the SANDF in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, particularly in light of the information that South Africa is still in the early stages of the pandemic.

“Of critical importance is the deployment of the South African Military Health Services and its capabilities, which is necessary to support the Department of Health, when considering the trajectory of infections expected, as per research by experts.

“Furthermore, the committee is satisfied with the reason that the initial 2 820 deployed was insufficient, considering the expected scale of the disease,” Xaba said.

While the committee is cognisant that this deployment is large and has huge financial implications, with the injection of R4.5 billion, it considers the cost implications necessary in the context of the unprecedented nature of the disease, which demands an extraordinary response.

Furthermore, Xaba said the committee is also cognisant that some of the cost drivers include the procurement of personal protective equipment, equipment necessary for testing and analysis, and preparation of field hospitals – all of which are necessary to protect SANDF members and fight this disease.

“The safety of members of the SANDF is of paramount importance and no cost should be spared to protect the lives of South Africans and members of the SANDF,” Xaba said.

Concerns over abuse cases

Meanwhile, the committee has raised concerns about the sporadic cases of alleged abuse of power by some members of the SANDF, which has the potential to damage the legitimacy and image of the SANDF in this fight against COVID-19.

The committee has called on all SANDF members to act within the confines of the law and SANDF’s Code of Conduct, which guides the conduct of all uniformed personnel, especially during deployments.

“The committee is confident that the Military Ombud is committed and capable to deal with this matter, and that reports on the investigations will adequately address those worrying actions. The committee will await the completion of the investigation into these cases and then analyse if the consequences are adequate.

“Despite this, the committee has also called upon the citizenry in general to work with the security establishment by abiding with the regulations, which will go a long way to limiting any need to interact with security personnel,” Xaba said.

The committee has also condemned the circulation of false videos as a way of bringing the name of the SANDF into disrepute and undermining the legitimacy of the SANDF.

“The committee hopes that peddlers of such content will be subjected to the full might of the law, as per the regulations,” said Xaba.

Condolences to families of fallen soldiers

The committee has further extended its heartfelt condolences to members of the families of the two soldiers who passed away in the course of enforcement of the Declaration of National Disaster.

“We would like to express our condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers. We hope that the families of these heroes find solace in the knowledge that they died in the line of duty, protecting the lives of South Africans,” Xaba said.