Placing the country on a 21-day lockdown was a very difficult decision to come to but it was one that had to be made to save lives.
This was the sentiment expressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday evening when he addressed the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at the Doornkop army base, south of Johannesburg, just hours before the commencement of the lockdown.
Ramaphosa urged the SANDF to discharge its duties with respect and humility as the country’s citizens were already facing an uncertain future.
“As we start these 21 days, many of our people are fearful, doubtful, concerned about loneliness, boredom. Our people will be looking to you not for might but assurance that things will be fine,” said Ramaphosa.
“We have received support for taking this decision [about the lockdown] and as you go out you won’t be met by hostility from our people, you will be met with understanding,” he said.
Ramaphosa called upon the army to “be a force of kindness and not of might”.
“Deliver your duties in a way that does not violate our people’s rights either intentionally or unintentionally,” said the president.
He said the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic had already brought so much uncertainty to South Africans that “they will be looking to you as a force of assurance that they will not get the virus and you will be looking out for them”.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that “of course they will be some in the general public that will want to test the might of the SA army but nudge them in the right direction and remind them why you are doing your duty”.
He said the greatest indication that the 21-day lockdown was the only way to tackle this pandemic was reflected by the infection figures released on Thursday.
“The confirmed infection rate stands at 927 and in a few days it could reach 1500 people,” he said.
“We need to restore life and light to the nation and this is what you have been tasked with doing,” he told the soldiers.
The SA Police Service (SAPS) and the SANDF will be deployed from midnight on Thursday to support and enforce the national lockdown.
Earlier in the day the president addressed the SAPS and called upon them to be supportive, assist, guide and lead the way for the public.
“I send you off now to go and be amongst our people. I send you to conduct service amongst our people and shower our people with guidance, advice and leadership right now in the Republic of South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.