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'Will they stay in their lane?': DA's John Steenhuisen wants clarity on soldiers

22 April 2020 - 15:29 By Aphiwe Deklerk
John Steenhuisen says clear parameters need to be set about where the power of the army begins and where it ends.
John Steenhuisen says clear parameters need to be set about where the power of the army begins and where it ends.
Image: Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail

DA leader John Steenhuisen said his party wants clarity on the deployment of 73,180 additional soldiers by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In a letter written to the co-chairperson of the defence portfolio committee, Cyril Xaba, Ramaphosa outlined his government’s plans to deploy the additional soldiers.

This number will add to the 2,820 members who started work last month enforcing the lockdown alongside police.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Steenhuisen said clarity was needed on how the soldiers would work, including whether they will stay in their lane when it comes to the enforcement of the regulations.

“That would be the clarity that we are seeking today. This will be the largest deployment of the SANDF in post-democratic SA and I think it behoves to get to the bottom of why exactly this deployment is required.

“If in fact, as we suspect, it is to help police [enforce] a district lockdown model, then very clear parameters need to be set about where the power of the army begins and where it ends. And we need to know how long this deployment could potentially be extended ,” said Steenhuisen.

Steenhuisen called the press conference to reply to Ramaphosa’s announcement of economic relief measures to help boost the economy which has been hit hard by a lockdown meant to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

His party has claimed victory with the announcement, saying a number of their proposals had been listened to and factored in by Ramaphosa.

The party’s finance shadow minister, Gordon Hill-Lewis, said Ramaphosa’s announcement went a long way to achieving the goals the DA set out three weeks ago, which included keeping as many people employed for as long as possible; keeping as many businesses open for as long as possible; and intervening to get money to the poor and hungry. 

“We also consider it as good news that the president has decided to overrule those opponents inside his own party and that we ... have already approached the International Monetary Fund for some crisis loan facility,” said Hill-Lewis.

Siviwe Gwarube, the party’s health shadow minister, welcomed the announcement of R20bn for the department of health.

She called for the reconfiguration of the current health budget to respond to the fight against Covid-19, saying the funds set aside for the planned National Health Insurance should be redirected to the fight against the pandemic.

Gwarube called for the government to buy and distribute face masks to South Africans.

“We need to also ... start enforcement of mandatory wearing of masks. The reality is that the lockdown will not be able to last forever, certain elements and certain sectors of our economy have to come back on board.

“And if we are going to do that, then we have to develop smart ways to ensure SA does not have a massive explosion of infections all at once,” said Gwarube.

She proposed setting aside R600m to buy reusable masks for everyone.