Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula refused to divulge the number of soldiers deployed to help police enforce regulations during the 21-day lockdown, but she assured South Africans that they were ready for their task.
She was speaking to journalists at the Doornkop Military Base, in the south of Johannesburg, on Thursday – minutes after President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the soldiers.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed at midnight when the country went into lockdown.
Their role is to support the police over the next three weeks to enforce regulations the government passed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
South Africa has more than 1,000 positive cases across the country and two deaths – both in the Western Cape.
“In one of the briefings, we received information that the epicentres here in Gauteng [are] Sandton and Bedfordview. Now, once it’s in Sandton, we should worry about our people in Alex and the conditions [in] which they live,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
Sandton is a few kilometres away from densely populated Alexandra, where residents have clashed with the government over living conditions and a lack of space.
She added that the proximity of Bedfordview to a Germiston-based informal settlement named after Ramaphosa was also a cause for concern
Mapisa-Nqakula said it was worrying that thousands of people rushed to leave Gauteng, saying some of them could have been carrying the deadly virus and could have spread it to other parts of the country.
The minister said the armed forces did not have enough have adequate resources but added: “[The] defence force, being the last line of the defence of the republic, needs to defend its people. The defence force must come out, resources or no resources.”
She said challenges relating to resources have often come up in the National Assembly. The Portfolio Committee on Defence asked the government to allocate more funds to the force.
But Mapisa-Nqakula gave the assurance that the army was ready and committed to serve the nation – even with inadequate resources.
She reiterated the president’s message that the troops should not be hostile when dealing with people during the lockdown.
There was no talk about an extension of the lockdown period, she said.
“Whatever decision will be taken at whatever point, will have to be informed by an assessment done by health workers on the ground and the minister of health,” she said.
But she believed the lockdown would yield positive results, she said.