President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the deployment of an additional 73,180 members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to cooperate with the SA Police Service (SAPS) on COVID-19 response measures.
Ramaphosa revealed this in a letter to Cyril Xaba, the co-chairperson of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence, on Tuesday.
Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen posted a picture of the letter on Twitter just before the President’s address to the nation on Tuesday evening.
Additional deployment to cost R4.59 billion
In March, Ramaphosa informed Parliament of the deployment of 2,820 SANDF members “for a service in cooperation with the SAPS in order to maintain law and order, support other State departments and to control our border line in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
In Tuesday’s letter, the President said, “The outbreak of COVID-19 continues to increase with reported cases across the Republic of South Africa.
“As a result, I have decided, in terms of section 201(2)(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 and section 18(1) of the Defence Act, 2002 (Act 42 of 2002), to deploy an additional 73,180 members of the SANDF, consisting of the Regular Force, Reserve Force and Auxiliary Force.”
He added that the deployment is for the period between 2 April and 26 June, 2020 and is estimated to cost R4,59 billion.
This is one of the largest SANDF deployments in South Africa’s history. According to Defence Web, the total SANDF personnel strength was 73,844 in 2018.
It is unclear at this stage what role the soldiers will play when the “hard” lockdown is phased out at the end of April.
In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa said the government will follow a risk-adjusted approach to lifting the five-week lockdown.
He said, “As I have said previously, if we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly, we risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the disease.”
The President added that he will address the nation again on Thursday with details of how the lockdown will be phased out.
The SANDF has faced some criticism for being heavy-handed in its approach. However, it has also won praise for assisting with the distribution of food parcels to communities.