Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered a full military deployment as part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 health crisis, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula confirmed on Wednesday.
“Having realised the magnitude of the challenge … the chief of the defence force then decided that it would be better for us to put all our soldiers on standby,” she told a virtual meeting of parliament’s standing committee on defence.
The minister said the deployment was scaled up from just under 3 000 soldiers to more than 73 000, including reserve forces, as the government realised the enormity of the health threat and the logistics involved in supporting the police in enforcing the national lockdown imposed on March 27.
Earlier questions were raised about a letter allegedly penned by President Cyril Ramaphosa informing Parliament of his decision.
The letter emerged on Tuesday night hours before Ramaphosa addressed the nation about the R500 billion economic and social relief adopted by Cabinet to help decrease the pressure caused by the pandemic.
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen tweeted the letter and said he had written to Ramaphosa requesting an explanation on the authenticity of its content.
In the letter, addressed to the chairperson of Parliament’s defence committee Cyril Xaba, Ramaphosa explains he had initially deployed just over 2 000 soldiers to assist the South African Police Service in implementing lockdown regulations.
Now the president was planning to deploy over 70 000 soldiers from April 2 to June 26 to help fight the virus.
The cost of the deployment would cost R4.5 billion, the letter stated.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Xaba said Parliament’s joint standing committee on defence will meet on Wednesday to discuss the contents of Ramaphosa’s letter and the deployment during the lockdown.
“The joint Standing Committee on Defence will tomorrow (on Wednesday) hold a virtual meeting to consider the letter from the president on the employment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in terms Section 201 (4) of the Constitution regarding the reasons, place, number of soldiers as well as the period of employment in the fight against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“Part of the briefings to be received include a progress report on the enforcement of the lockdown and how the implementation is going. This will cover areas such as the provision of protective equipment for SANDF members, effectiveness of co-ordination with other security agencies in enforcing the lockdown as well as the consideration of the allegations of fraud stemming from claims that expired meals being given to the military personnel by suppliers,” Xaba said.
IOL and African News Agency (ANA)
By Zintle Mahlati and ANA Reporter