The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is preparing to deploy up to 10 companies of troops on the streets later today, to add muscle to government efforts to enforce a clampdown on the movement of people and contain the coronavirus.
On Sunday, a warning order was sent to the army to prepare soldiers from infantry battalions based in each of the nine provinces for deployment from noon today.
The unprecedented mobilisation, the first in South Africa’s democratic era, has been codenamed Operation Chariot. It involves various companies being placed under the command of regional Joint Tactical Headquarters
(J Tac HQ) in each province.
The troops are being used to “support the effort” to mitigate the Covid-19 virus, according to orders from Army HQ in Pretoria.
The action is set to last for at least 21 days from today, but may be extended to three months.
This deployment is in alignment with the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) constitutional mandate to render “support to the civil power” in terms of “disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and crisis response”.
The soldiers have orders to work with the SA Police Service in support of the police’s “primary function” – to maintain law and order.
Soldiers will be at what is termed “combat readiness level 2”, which is one less than for deployment to a war situation and is intended to enable soldiers to “conduct secondary tasks”.
Working with the police, the troops will wear “full battle dress” when operational. This includes bulletproof vests, gloves and masks. Each soldier will carry a personal weapon (in this case the R4 assault rifle) and will have one magazine of 30 live rounds.
They will be equipped to be deployed independently for up to 72 hours with full rations and water.
Any SANDF member on this deployment may arrest “somebody who has committed an offence in his presence”. Once such an arrest is made the person arrested must be handed over as soon as possible to the police and the soldier must make a statement to the police giving reasons for the arrest.
The plan is that the SA Army’s 21 SAI battalion based in Lenasia will operate in Gauteng, deploying a company to Johannesburg and another to Pretoria; 4 SAI in Middelburg will provide a company of troops to assist in Mpumalanga; 121 SAI battalion from Mtubatuba will do the same for KwaZulu-Natal; while Bloemfontein’s 1 SAI battalion will handle the Free State; 14 SAI in Mthatha will manage the Eastern Cape, with 9 SAI in Cape Town doing the Western Cape. Upington’s 8 SAI Battalion will support efforts in the Northern Cape with Mafikeng-based 10 SAI providing assistance in the North West.
The orders stipulated that no press releases or statements are permitted to be made to individuals or the media and that all questions should go through the Tac HQ.