'None of our business' how soldiers behave enforcing lockdown: ANC MP
ANC MPs have come out in support of soldiers amid allegations that they have been abusive towards civilians while enforcing the lockdown.
During a meeting of parliament's joint defence committee on Wednesday, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the SANDF top brass, the ANC component of the oversight structure, said soldiers should not allow “anarchists” to undermine the authority of the state.
At the same time, military ombudsman Lt-Gen Vusumuzi Masondo told MPs that his office had received 33 complaints of abuse of power and heavy-handedness against soldiers since the start of lockdown on March 26.
The army has come under fire from various sections of society after videos went viral on social media depicting soldiers assaulting citizens and forcing them to do physical exercise such as frog-jumps for failing to obey lockdown rules.
ANC MP Jerome Maake led the charge in denouncing criticism of the soldiers, saying citizens had no right to roam the streets during the lockdown.
Maake also said it was “none of our business” how soldiers conducted themselves during lockdown operations.
“Why don't we talk about the citizenry itself? If you're not supposed to be in the streets, why are you on the streets? It means you're breaking the law — and why do we protect people who break the law?
“It's the commanders who must tell the footsoldiers what to do, not each and every Tom, Dick and Harry ... It's none of our business.”
Maake argued that soldiers were not to blame for being heavy-handed in some instances as they had apparently been provoked by civilians hell-bent on defying the lockdown.
“If somebody tells a soldier, 'You're a fool, you didn't go to school — that's why you are now on our streets,' is that a criminal offence? Must they arrest them, charge them with what?” he asked.
“In normal life, if somebody says that to you, that's provocation. Soldiers are human beings.
“We must talk about the citizens themselves — bafunani [what are they looking for] outside their homes? Is that not provocation to the soldiers?
“We keep blaming our soldiers. We are even taking them to court. I think it's neither here nor there.”
Maake's sentiments were echoed by other ANC MPs, such as Martha Mmola and Anele Gxoyiya, who also accused members of the public of provoking soldiers.
“If we keep on defending anarchists and condemning the people that are supposed to maintain law and order, then we'll have a lawless country,” said Gxoyiya.
But the EFF's Tseko Mafanya did not agree with the stance adopted by ANC members of the defence oversight committee.
Lt-Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, the chief of joint operations within the SANDF, said nobody would be allowed to undermine a task mandated by their commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“While we're being provoked, law enforcement agencies will not allow anybody to insult the president. We'll react immediately. It's important that this must be known by our people,” he said. “We're prepared to lay down our lives for our country and our constitution.”
Lt-Gen Masondo said of the 33 complaints filed against soldiers since March 26, 20 were by civilians while 12 were submitted by former members of the defence force.
Masondo said five complaints were filed by anonymous people, “making it difficult” for his office to follow up.