A senior military officer told MPs they are not the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) “clients” and the defence force only take orders from the commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“You’re not our clients. We are not the police. We take instructions from the commander-in-chief,” the army’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Lindile Yam, told the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on Wednesday.
Among the matters the committee dealt with is allegations of heavy-handedness by SANDF members deployed to assist the police in the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yam reminded the committee that SANDF members were “hardened”, have “seen things” at a young age, and this should be considered.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the department had observed “social media postings of soldiers not handling community members in an appropriate manner” – the alleged heavy-handedness.
“We do not condone such actions by soldiers and by any members of the law enforcement agencies.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said the allegations of heavy-handedness by some SANDF members distracted from the good work they have done, condemning all acts of abuse and heavy-handedness.
She did not want to address the “unfortunate” death of Collins Khosa who was allegedly beaten to death by SANDF members on Good Friday as the case is before the Constitutional Court. It is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the police, military police and military ombudsman.
However, Mapisa-Nqakula said some of the things distributed on social media were not necessarily things that happened during the lockdown.
She added “provocateurs” had distributed it to cause a “state of paranoia” before the SANDF was deployed, saying people should not provoke the SANDF members.
“There are people out there who do not want to see the deployment of the SANDF.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said they had to remind people this was not the old apartheid-era army.
ANC MP Jerome Maake referred to “what is termed abuse by the defence force on citizens”.
“We are being very unfair when it comes to that. They are supposed to uphold the law.
“Why are we not talking about the citizenry itself? If you’re not supposed to be on the streets, then why are you on the streets?”
ANC MP Anele Gxoyiya said the SANDF was our “last hope” and should be treated as such.
He added its mandate was “combating disruptions”.
Gxoyiya said videos circulating on social media did not provide the background of what happened before the “soldiers responded”.
He added this was “very mischievous” and discredited the SANDF. “We shouldn’t leave the members of the public to behave as they want to.”
DA MP Kobus Marais lauded the SANDF leadership for the way they had responded to complaints.
Military ombudsman Lieutenant-General Vusumuzi Masondo said they have received 33 complaints about the SANDF’s conduct since the start of the lockdown on 26 March. Five of those were from anonymous complainants, so they were not able to follow up on those.
During this time, they also received three letters from the public commending the SANDF, he added.
In a joint statement released after the meeting, committee chairperson Cyril Xaba and Mamagase Nchabeleng said the committee had raised concerns about “the sporadic cases of alleged abuse of power by some members of the SANDF”, which had the potential to damage its legitimacy and image in the fight against Covid-19.
“The committee calls on all members of the SANDF to act within the confines of the law and the SANDF’s Code of Conduct, which guides the conduct of all uniformed personnel, especially during deployments,” the statement read.
They said the committee was confident Masondo would deal this.
“Despite this, the committee has also called upon the citizenry in general to work with the security establishment by abiding with the regulations, which will go a long way to limiting any need to interact with security personnel.
“Furthermore, the committee condemns the circulation of false videos as a way of bringing the name of the SANDF into disrepute and undermining the legitimacy of the SANDF. The committee hopes that peddlers of such content will be subjected to the full might of the law as per the regulations.”