Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) Ms Thandi Modise
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Mr Amos Masondo
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Deputy President David Mabuza
Role of the South African National Defence Force during the Lockdown
The role of our defence force in the pandemic as an enabler, protector and defender is enshrined in our constitutional mandate of defence to the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, as well as her peoples and the principles of international law regulating the use of force. It was therefore no surprise that the President and Commander-in-Chief called upon us from the very beginning of the pandemic almost exactly a year ago.
South Africans must remember that ours as the defence establishment started with the repatriation of our compatriots from Wuhan from the 10th to 13th March 2020, despite the immense risks the mission entailed. Men and women of the SANDF, mostly our healthcare professionals, constituted the team to undertake this mission and brought back our compatriots. This was sixteen days before the national lockdown on the 26th March 2020.
When the Commander-in-Chief ordered us into action, we mobilized the largest deployment of the South African National Defence Force in its 26-year history. Operation Notlela, which is what we called it, was the biggest ever readiness exercise in democratic South Africa’s memory.
The deployed strength of the SANDF comprised 8119 personnel made up of members of the regular force, reserves and auxiliary services in support of other government departments to mitigate and combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because the threat South Africa and the world faced was unlike anything in the living global memory, akin to the Spanish flu in 1918.
The types of capabilities deployed included the lockdown enforcement elements, health care practitioners, engineers, air defence and maritime capabilities. All these capabilities had multiple tasks of also assisting front line departments such as the SAPS, National Health, DIRCO, Co-operative Governance, Public Works, Home Affairs, Education, Water and Sanitation, including provinces and districts throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Our defence force is indeed an enabler, protector and defender!
Honourable chairperson I wish to give a glimpse of the facts and figures to provide an even clearer picture we are talking about. On the landward capabilities we deployed across all nine provinces both regulars and reserves. On health support, we had scanning and screening teams consisting of 165 medical staff; primary health care teams comprising 36 doctors, 84 nurses and 65 auxiliary staff deployed. These teams have scanned eight hundred and eighty six thousand eight hundred (886 800) respectively. Over and above these, the SANDF deployed a medical task team to the Eastern Cape to assist overburdened hospitals, with a similar exercise undertaken in the Gauteng province, and an additional deployment of decontamination teams.
Our military engineers also deployed in all provinces in support of the Department of Water and Sanitation. In this regard, water purification support and distribution was effected, resulting in a total of twenty three million seven hundred and forty thousands (23 740 000) litres of water purified, of which twenty two million and ninety five thousand (22 095 000) was distributed. In the same vein, ninety one water tanks were distributed to schools in Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal respectively. Our engineers also built bridges in impassable rural areas to ensure access to various services by communities.
Honourable members…as we continue the fight against the pandemic, our focus must now include measures underway to acquire the necessary vaccines as directed by the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Vaccines led by the Deputy President Mabuza. For our part, as the defence establishment, we will be involved in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines as per the IMC plan. In the same vein, throughout the period of the pandemic, we have made sure that our own forces are and remain protected and all measures will be taken up to ensure force protection!
Support for Military Veterans and their dependants
During November 2020 the President and Patron-in-Chief of Military Veterans established a Task Team led by the Deputy President to engage with the community of military veterans. These engagements have resulted in the Deputy President meeting with the military veterans to alleviate their plight. They have involved a range of national departments as well as the premiers. The developments have led to the establishment of work streams to coordinate delivery to military veterans, especially on their socio-economic needs. In addition, measures are also underway to ensure the amendment of the legislative framework to enhance capacity and delivery systems to the community of military veterans, especially those from the community of the former liberation movement. A report will be tabled in due course to parliament once it has served in Cabinet.
Role of SoEs in the Defence Industry
Chairperson, we have been seized in engagements with our country’s state owned industry. Our defence acquisition agency, the Armaments Corporation (Armscor), continues to engage with the defence industry, both in the state and private sector. We shall await the outcome of these continued engagements.
Skills Developments and Training Youth
The SANDF is an institution where skills development and training remain the keystone of the existence of the military establishment. In this regard, over the years the SANDF has provided training for young people through the military skills development system (MSDS) since 2000. Recruitment will now henceforth have intakes on a two year basis, in 2022 and 2024 respectively.
Infrastructure Development in Rural Areas
The SANDF has played a sterling role in the building of infrastructure in the rural areas. This has been in particular in relation to ensure that communities are able to traverse impassable routes and rivers. In this regard, four teams of SANDF engineers have been deployed and carried out operations in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to build bridges to assist the population access to healthcare, banks and other services. These provide the communities easy access to the much needed essential services.
As we conclude this we need to emphasize that the defence establishment is committed to the empowerment of military veterans