Johannesburg - Five days ago, a military general allegedly illegally deployed troops to get their colleagues out of police custody - but the authorities still can’t say what happened.
Only the president may authorise the use of troops within South Africa. On Wednesday night, the Presidency said no authorisation was issued, and that troops were in Oudtshoorn on training and exercises, which didn’t need authorisation.
Department of Defence spokespersons couldn’t offer any official explanation by late on Wednesday.
Police said as little as possible.
The general apparently went to the police station in Bongolethu, Oudtshoorn, after soldiers were arrested by police at a shebeen and demanded their release. When police refused to release them, the general allegedly called the Oudtshoorn base and about 120 armed troops in two Ratels and two buses arrived.
Police locked the door and armed themselves. There was no shooting and the soldiers were released.
The incident took place on Friday night, after a ceremonial handover of command at Oudtshoorn base.
“Assuming that is correct, then what we have is an extremely serious situation,” defence expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman said, adding a court martial should be under way.
“The commissioned officer involved in that should be in jail for life without the option of parole… It was a manifestly illegal act, a manifestly illegal order, no excuse at all, end of story,” Heitman said.
The Star has information which suggests that the general believed to be involved was Brigadier-General Xolani Mankayi from Pretoria.
The Star tried to get a response from Mankayi on Wednesday night, but he put down the phone and then did not respond to an SMS.
The General Officer Commanding the Infantry Formation, Major-General Lindile Yam, said he did not know of any such incident.
Western Cape provincial spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut would only confirm the arrest of 31 people at an unlicensed liquor premises in Oudtshoorn on Friday during a search operation.
“The employment status of the arrested people, who were released on an admission of guilt fine, cannot be disclosed or verified.
“We can further confirm that the SAPS are investigating a case of intimidation against three individuals whose employment can also not be verified,” said Traut.
The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) called it a “military-backed insurrection against the SAPS”, accused the general of being drunk, and expressed dismay that the SANDF had apparently done nothing about it.
“Sandu is informed that soldiers in Oudtshoorn were warned by military authorities to remain silent about this incident or face disciplinary measures. We demand that the SANDF immediately suspends the general involved and investigate charges of intimidation and sedition against him,” said Sandu spokesman Pikkie Greeff.
“The force and speed with which the military management targeted the officers in the Guptagate affair, as opposed to the current lack of action, shows bias in favour of political expediency and party political interests.”