ANC praises SANDF for 'simple measures' to ensure discipline

31 March 2020 - 21:07 By Andisiwe Makinana
Many residents of Alexandra came out to see the soldiers as they moved through the area on Friday.
Many residents of Alexandra came out to see the soldiers as they moved through the area on Friday.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Despite calls for members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to be restrained when dealing with civilians during the ongoing national lockdown, the ANC in parliament has praised soldiers for what it called "simple measures to discipline community members".

The SANDF has come under criticism for forcing members of the public who are found outside their homes to do physical exercises. Videos emerged over the weekend of men doing push-up, squats and rolling in the mud as punishment for roaming the streets during the lockdown.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, ANC MP Thabo Mmutle said the ANC component of the parliamentary committee that oversees the department of defence has been closely monitoring the "good work" done by SANDF members deployed to enforce the lockdown regulations.

He said they support defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula's message to the deployed soldiers to desist from using excessive force against citizens.

“We are in support of our soldiers to continue with the good work that they are doing in assisting South Africans during this pandemic,” said Mmutle.

“The reality we have witnessed over the few days is that our people find it difficult to comply with the regulations and the SANDF is assisting them to comply. The videos making rounds on social media attest that in most, if not all, of those videos, it is our people who are assisted to be disciplined in order to save their lives.”

Speaking to TimesLIVE, Mmutle backtracked on the so-called "suspension" of the Bill of Rights, saying it may have been the wrong use of words on his part and that it was the freedom of movement that was being limited by the regulations.

“The freedom of movement is contained in the Bill of Rights. It was on that basis - maybe I put it wrongly and I was supposed to be specific and say … the essence is that freedom of movement has been suspended. It's like solving for X which is equal to Y and Y is equal to Z, therefore X is equal to Z,” he said.

They are not supposed to be beating people, but the light punishment like frog-jumps, that is not a violation. They are just assisting our people to be disciplined. 
ANC MP Thabo Mmutle

Mmutle was adamant, however, that there was nothing wrong with soldiers forcing people to do physical exercises as punishment.

“They are not supposed to be beating people but the light punishment like frog-jumps, that is not a violation. They are just assisting our people to be disciplined. Those are the measures that obviously soldiers are using for them to enforce the regulations. Those are normally used to ensure that there is discipline,” he said.

“It is not written anywhere, but in case of the regulations, if you do this, you must expect a soldier to punish you in this particular manner.”

Mmutle said critics have to be cautious of the role soldiers are meant to play and should not allow the authority of soldiers to be undermined because they aren't allowed to do certain things

“We have seen some of the videos where police have been stoned and ran away. When it's members of society doing that to the police, nobody says anything. But when they [soldiers] are applying simple measures that actually seek to discipline these people and ensure that there is enforcement of regulations, it's a hullaballoo. Why are we living in such a country?”

In his address on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the task of the security personnel was to support, reassure and comfort the people, and to ensure that peace and order was maintained.

“They know that they must act within the law at all times and that they must not cause harm to any of our people,” he said.

DA MP Kobus Marais condemned videos circulating on social media of SANDF members forcing civilians, who allegedly did not abide by the lockdown regulations, to do squats and push-ups.

"While we agree that those who do not comply with the lockdown regulations should face the consequences for their actions, in accordance to the lockdown regulations, we condemn any act which seeks to humiliate and degrade citizens," said Marais.

Mmutle said they were monitoring this to ensure that they live up to their constitutional mandate to preserve the lives of South Africans and offer humanitarian relief during the 21-day lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19.

But he sang the praises of soldiers who were recorded forcing civilians to do physical exercises as punishment for not being indoors.

He criticised the DA following its complaint to military ombudsman Gen Vusi Masondo for what it called “gross violation” of the military mandate and of the Bill of Rights by members of the SANDF.

“We must all accept that our freedom to movement is suspended and therefore the regulations are in force. We also wish to remind the DA that they also supported this suspension of the Bill of Rights in order for government to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“Our observations in the midst of allegations levelled against SANDF members is that the DA wants to use this as an opportunity to advance political agenda, which we will not allow, as it aims to defocus us from our mission of saving lives.

“We are aware that most people affected by the lockdown are our people in the townships, informal settlements and rural villages, where the majority of our people reside. Therefore tactics by the DA seek to expose our people’s lives to danger of infection.”