Johannesburg – Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has painted the picture of a worse Covid-19 scenario in the next few months where soldiers would be collecting bodies and helping to bury them.
She was explaining the reason President Cyril Ramaphosa had to deploy more than 73 000 additional members of the defence force. Ramaphosa on Tuesday informed co-chairperson of the joint standing committee on defence Cyril Xaba that he had approved the deployment of 73 180 soldiers in addition to the initial 2 820 troops which were deployed late last month to assist the police to enforce the lockdown regulations, including controlling the border lines.
The latest deployment came with a revised budget of more than R4.6 billion from R600m. Speaking on a radio show yesterday, Mapisa-Nqakula said if it happened, like in many countries, that South Africans die in huge numbers through the coronavirus, the defence force members would be there to collect bodies.
“They will put up big mortuaries where scores of people who would die will be kept. “When the need arises SANDF will be there to build mortuaries in areas where we may not have one,” she said. She said big trucks had been made available to ferry the corpses to cemeteries.
Mapisa-Nqakula said that with the rising numbers of infections and the predictions that there was likely to be an exponential curve between August and September, there was a pressing need for Ramaphosa to increase the army deployment.
“Who are we to believe that what has happened in Italy or Spain will not happen in South Africa? “So we must be readily available as the defence force to deal with such incidents,” she said.
She said the SA National Defence Force had doctors and psychologists who would work hand-in-hand with the Health and Social Development departments “at a time when people will be dying”.
She said that among the latest deployment would be members of the SA Military Health Service who would work under the guidance of the Health Department. “If there is any mass screening to be done, we are hoping that the Department of Health will rely on the skill of medical professionals of the SANDF.
“Right now our death rate is very low at 58, but we cannot say we will never get to where other countries have been. I can assure you that the people you will need to pick those bodies to go and bury them would be the members of SANDF because they are the ones who have a mandate of being deployed without challenging the orders given to them,” she said.
The SA Military Health Service would also look after soldiers who might be infected during the course of their duties, she said. Mapisa-Nqakula said SANDF members were constructing pedestrian bridges in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape for people to cross rivers in order to get to clinics to access medical help.
She also warned that the army would not be tolerant of those disobeying lockdown and stay-at-home instructions as this might lead to another extension of the lockdown. But she called on soldiers not to violate human rights.
“As we look at some of the transgressions, which may have been committed by the SANDF, we should also quickly look around at our own people’s conduct… the manner in which they are provoking the police, metro police and soldiers is unacceptable.
“If people are going to be making their point by coming out and doing things which they are not supposed to do at the time when the whole country is locked down, honestly that is truly provocative because we need to remain indoors,” she said.
However, she said some cases of brutality involving soldiers were being handled by police and the military ombudsman to “account to South Africans through Parliament about the number of cases of abuse”.
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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the government’s 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or go to SA Coronavirus for more information.
By Bongani Hans