Video clips of SANDF soldiers only telling half the story, says deputy minister
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Videos and pictures circulating on social media depicting members of the SANDF being "heavy handed" are not painting a full picture.
That is according to Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Makwetla said South Africans needed to be cognisant of people with hidden agendas posting "half-versions" of what transpired on social media to advance their agendas.
He said people needed to interrogate everything they saw on social media and also request context to the clips that were being posted.
“We are in an era of a different culture with regard to how information is shared. The social media phenomenon must also not make us victims of it. We must benefit out of this phenomenon which was not there before (so) that all of us now can put our views and information out there.
“There are people putting stories out there (which are) deliberately manipulative, to achieve a certain outcome,” he said. “As a society, we have to be aware that now we have a responsibility of sifting through the information we are coming across on social media.
“A responsibility that was not there before. But if we imbibe news and reports without always reminding ourselves that there is a possibility that the information might be incorrect, then we will have problems.”
Makwetla was responding to an article by the Sunday Independent regarding the heavy-handedness of soldiers throughout the country which resulted in the death of an Alexandra man. Collins Khoza’s death has brought to nine the number of people allegedly killed by the police and soldiers for violating the national lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month.
According to witnesses and Khoza’s family, the deceased died after soldiers assaulted him for drinking alcohol inside a yard with his friend, Thabiso Muvhango. Accusing the two men of having violated the Covid-19-related national lockdown, three soldiers allegedly raided Muvhango’s home at Far East Bank after noticing a camp chair and a half-full cup of alcohol in the yard.
Social media has been flooded with images of soldiers making people do push-ups and frog jumps in the streets.
There have been videos of the soldiers kicking and hitting people who are believed to be ignoring the lockdown regulations.
Makwetla, however, lamented the pictures and videos circulating on social media, saying they only captured the actions of the soldiers, and not what led to them.
“From the reports we now have, social media has not been doing us good in some aspects, in that there are incidents that were so well edited, such as what happened in the Western Cape and Sebokeng. From the account provided by the military, the clips only give the viewer the reaction of the SANDF members, without capturing... what happened before.
“As a result, people will make conclusions based on what they see, which is very infuriating (as) there is no context. Some of the clips are not responsibly capturing the conduct of our members out there,” he said.
The SANDF was deployed by Ramaphosa when he announced the lockdown to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. He initially announced a 21-day lockdown but later extended it by 14 days.
Despite the lockdown, the number of confirmed cases has rocketed to over 2600, with at least 48 confirmed deaths related to the deadly virus.
Makwetla admitted that the nation was not properly informed of the role the SANDF would be playing during the period. He said many believed that the soldiers were simply there to enforce the lockdown regulations.
“We have not given sufficient information around the deployment of the SANDF, and of course we must be held responsible for that. If the public understands the deployment of the SANDF to be only about the enforcement of regulations, we are responsible for that weakness.
“It’s not the only area to assist in dealing with the pandemic that SANDF is involved in. It’s involved in fighting (all aspects of) this pandemic.
“What you see in the streets is army deployment. There is the air force as well as the medical services deployed; we also have the deployment of the South African Navy for purposes of dealing with challenges that arise as a result of this pandemic.
“The deployment is very extensive and is not limited to enforcing regulations as far as the conduct of communities is concerned,” Makwetla said.
He added that South Africans would miss the value add of the SANDF “in their lives which is now playing itself out there, because they are looking at the images of the not-so-satisfactory conduct on the social media”.
“South Africans need to have a full appreciation that this asset which is the SANDF must look after it at all times because it comes in handy when dealing with unforeseen situations.”
Makwetla admitted that the deployment was unconventional for all involved and it was important for all sectors of societies to work together.
“The military is deployed in a very unfamiliar mission where there is only one side, and that one side is ourselves against the pandemic. It’s not a conventional deployment where there are two sides. That should have been the response of our communities but we all know that not all of us will help tackle societal problems.
"Some of us may act irresponsibly but the majority of South Africans appreciate the attempts by the security cluster to get the threat levels reduced,” Makwetla said.
He urged communities to see the soldiers as people who had been sent with instructions and who understood the regulations of the lockdown and could explain them.
Makwetla said if people did not get all the information regarding measures they should take to protect themselves, they should approach the soldiers as they patrolled their communities and ask for information.