As the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown draws nearer, a soldier’s union within the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) says the staff morale is low in many ranks of the army but, despite that, the discipline and patriotism remained high and the soldiers would perform their duties with diligence.
Pikkie Greeff, national secretary of the SA National Defence Union (Sandu), said on Thursday that the soldiers had received training, including the “handling of civilian deployments in assistance with the SA Police Service [SAPS]”, which meant the army could act only on the orders of the police and not of its own accord in this deployment.
“The level of force would be the same as for the police, meaning only the force necessary to contain a specific threat. That will at all times be the call of the police officer in charge at a specific situation,” Greeff said.
On Monday President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown to combat the outbreak and spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
The lockdown starts at midnight on Thursday, during which the police and the defence force would patrol the streets to ensure compliance.
The defence force deployment comes at a time when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has cut down on the operational and acquisition budgets of the SANDF, which has dwindled in recent years, with cuts totalling R10 billion in the past three years.
The continued budget cuts prompted suggestions that the army might be bloated and should be downsized.
Greeff said any budget cut affected the overall ability of an army to perform at its full capacity.
However, he said, the lockdown “deployment does not constitute a capacity constraint at this stage but the situation does emphasise the importance of adequately maintaining a defence force in case the worst scenario develops”.
“Sandu doesn’t support the call for downsizing. It will place South Africa in jeopardy, as the pandemic demonstrates. What if, in the future, something worse occurs? An army is exactly about matching unpredictable events,” he said.
Public perception of the defence force would depend on how the army behaved during the lockdown period, he said.
“The role is no different in this case as it has been in any other deployment in support of the SAPS.”
He said: “Soldiers do not generally get paid overtime; they do, however, qualify to be paid deployment allowances and standby allowances in accordance with the defence department’s policies.”