The Joint Standing Committee on Defence supports the placement of the entire South African National Defence Force on standby for assistance in the fight against the dreaded Covid-19 disease in the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa informed Parliament in a letter that he was going to employ an additional 73 180 soldiers for the initial deployment of 2 820.

The 73,180 number includes regular, reserve and auxiliary forces that can now be deployed until at least 26 June 2020. The committee said in its recent virtual meeting that it supported the deployment because of the magnitude of the disease.

“We are satisfied by the reasons given by the President and the necessity to employ an additional 73 180 members of the South African National Defence Force (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 as its capabilities  are necessary to support the Department of Health when considering the trajectory of infections expected as per research by experts,” said Mr Cyril Xaba, the Co-Chairperson of the committee.

The committee was informed that the initial 2 820 deployed is insufficient considering the expected scale of the disease that led to the deployment of more soldiers to assist particularly in the enforcement of the lockdown regulations where the need arise.

Asked by the committee to give more light on cost implications of the deployment of soldiers, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the committee that the R4.5 billion at the disposal of the defence is inclusive of the entire SANDF financial needs. “We have agreed with the senior command structures of the SANDF that any money that we don’t use will be returned to the National Treasury,” Mr Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The committee heard that some of the cost drivers include the procurement of personal protective equipment that is necessary for testing and analysis and preparation of field hospitals, all of which are necessary to protect SANDF members to carry on with the fight against the disease.

The committee also heard that SANDF is preparing isolation and quarantine wards at military hospitals in Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town, and will also establish field hospitals across the country and especially in Durban where there is no military hospital and there is a high infection rate there.

Chief of the SANDF Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya informed the committee that President Ramaphosa had instructed SANDF command structures to think about how the additional equipment and facilities being procured in the fight against Covid-19 could be used to improve the health system in the long term.

Regarding the abuse of power by the security establishment, the committee was informed that the Military Ombud was busy with investigations to ascertain the veracity of the reported cases. “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 it if the consequences are adequate,” said Mr Mamagase Nchabeleng, the Co-Chairperson of the committee.

Meanwhile, the committee has requested a written report on the reported incidents involving two South African Air Force’s C-130 Hercules Aircraft in Goma and Waterkloof Airforce Base and the impact this will have on the deployment of this logistics capability especially with the expected increase in deployment.

By Malatswa Molepo