SANDF needs caution in its conduct

NO LAUGHING MATTER: SANDF and SAPS officials 'punish' a group of youngsters caught playing soccer in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth, in contravention of the 21-day lockdown
NO LAUGHING MATTER: SANDF and SAPS officials 'punish' a group of youngsters caught playing soccer in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth, in contravention of the 21-day lockdown
Image: EUGENE COETZEE

And then it happened — the SA National Defence Force arrived in Nelson Mandela Bay at the weekend as the country’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 geared up a notch.

It was day three of the 21-day lockdown, implemented by the government to monitor communities’ adherence to lockdown regulations.

Already, by then, the infection rate had passed the 1,000 mark — about three weeks since the first positive diagnosis of the virus in SA.

In the two days before, there had been increasing calls for intervention in parts of the metro where residents queued at shopping centres, particularly in the city’s northern areas and townships, to stock up on groceries to see them through the lockdown.

Elsewhere in the country, the men and women in camo, with SAPS and metro police officials, had already started patrolling.

It did not take too long before the inevitable: videos purportedly showing soldiers forcing civilians, who allegedly failed to abide by lockdown regulations, to do squats and push-ups started circulating on social media.

Perhaps you might ask: “What is wrong with that?”

But it goes without saying that SA has a troubled past when it comes to army and police officials.

This  past comes flooding back for some South Africans when they see officials who are meant to protect us acting in a manner unbefitting of the SANDF uniform.

Today, a squat or a push-up. Tomorrow, who knows what?

Tempers are likely to flare in the coming weeks as we all deal with the frustration of being in lockdown and that has the potential for a volatile situation.

While it is difficult to comment from the outside, not knowing what they have to deal with on the ground, there needs to be discipline within their ranks.

Our soldiers are there to guide people in the right direction and assist where they can — not manhandle or use strong-arm tactics.

So the call by the likes of DA MP Kobus Marais and One South Africa (Osa) leader Mmusi Maimane for an investigation into the soldiers’ behaviour is most welcome.

And if they are found to have acted outside the ambit of the SANDF, they need to be dealt with accordingly — and by that, we do not mean squats and push-ups.

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