SANDF's message to SA under lockdown: We dare not and we will not fail
Pretoria - The South African National Defence Force deploys today to protect the nation – literally from itself. It is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that this is our greatest challenge and indeed our greatest honour in our 25-year history as the people’s national defence force.
Only once before has this country faced a crisis of this magnitude – in 1918. Then the Spanish Flu landed on our shores as the Great War in Europe was coming to a close. It was like a wild fire, burning through Cape Town, then Kimberley and finally Bloemfontein to the north east along the railway line and all the way across and through the Transkei.
There was no proper control, quarantine was cursory, medical examinations non-existent. By the time the contagion had burnt itself out October 1918 would forever be dubbed Black October with at least 300 000 of our great grand-parents dead, many unrecorded in unmarked graves.
This time the threat is as real, the prospects of catastrophe even greater because of the speed of Covid-19 across the world, but the differences are massive. This time, we have a Commander-in-Chief who is resolute in President Cyril Ramaphosa; we have a very real plan; an unequivocal mandate; and, a vital mission.
We dare not and we will not fail.
This is the second time we have been asked to operate during the global Covid-19 crisis; the first was our textbook perfect mission in tandem with the Department of Health and South African Airways to evacuate our nationals stranded in Wuhan Province in China earlier this month.
Now we have the honour of stepping up to work in tandem with the rest of your public service to protect South Africa. At this stage you will see our men and women on the streets of the nation for the next 21 days.
They’re highly trained soldiers, led by officers and NCOs with extensive peace keeping experience gained in the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in the world – the Democratic Republic of Congo. But over and above that our other men and women in uniform will continue to maintain our commitment to the UN on land and in the air.
Throughout the next 21 days and beyond, we will continue to safeguard South Africa’s territorial sovereignty; our ships will continue to participate in interdiction exercises up the Mozambique channel, while our other soldiers will still walk patrols along all 4 471 kms of our borders; from the Atlantic in the west with Namibia, all the way across Botswana and Zimbabwe, down past Mozambique and around eSwatini ensuring a 10km deep cordon.
The war against poaching and smuggling, be it drugs or car syndicates, or contraband and counterfeit goods won’t stop, in fact this time we will be even harder at work ensuring people with coronavirus don’t make it across the border either, whether into South Africa or outwards to our neighbours.
Our constitutional mandate is to protect the people of this country, we train for every possible threat; conventional, unconventional, asymmetric and natural disaster both beyond our borders and within: We have deployed to help the police combat the gang violence ravaging the Cape and we still have assets deployed there on that mission. We sent out our engineers to stabilise and fix the compromised water reticulation services along the Vaal, when a desperate public health crisis loomed. We have used our men and women of the South African Military Health Service to intervene at Mahikeng hospital in North West and restore the health crisis there.
There are very few sectors in which we have not been involved and very few areas in which we have not been deployed to in the last 25 years. This deployment though will literally be our biggest and our most important yet. Our men and women will be literally putting their lives on the line to ensure that the selfishness of a few does not endanger the well being of the many.
We will be on the front line to ensure that the plan of the president's National Command Council to flatten the curve of infections will work. To do so will take a level of professionalism and dedication to duty that we are confident the members of your SANDF have at this time of great peril, but it will also require them to fulfil their duties with a single-mindedness of purpose that will deter the minority who refuse to believe either the evidence of the scientists or the seriousness of the president.
We will not brook any deviance from this lockdown. Our members have been trained not to be intimidated. They will use whatever means within the law to protect the lives and property of the innocents. Let us all commit here and now not to force them to do that in the next 21 days – or ever.
We are here to serve you and to protect you, if necessary, from yourselves. Our members will be on the streets and they will be backed by the full resources of the SANDF, including our highly trained and well-equipped military health specialists who are standing by to assist too should the need arise.
Two Sundays ago, the president challenged all of us once again to heed the call. This is our greatest Thuma Mina moment as a nation. The SANDF has already responded, we need you to do the same – but all you have to do is stay at home while we patrol the streets to keep you safe from every possible threat – including yourselves.
Let’s rise to the occasion, South Africa. Let’s work together, Mzansi. Vuka sizwe, let’s beat this threat against all of us.
* Siphiwe Dlamini is head of communications: Department of Defence.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.