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'The country was burning': SANDF chief relives getting the call for deployment for July's unrest

02 March 2022

The chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has told the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that the army was deployed last July as the country was burning and that the riots were unprecedented.

General Rudzani Maphwanya on Tuesday night told the SAHRC hearing into the unrest, which caused destruction and led to widespread looting in July last year, that the military was roped in to defend and protect the people of the country.

More than 300 people died and the damage to the economy was estimated at R50 billion.

Maphwanya said the "call came in" on the evening of 11 July 2021 and the first boots were on the ground the following day.

"The request was for the defence force to look after key points to release the SA Police Service (SAPS) to deal with the unrest.

"You will think it is unfair [of me] not to make a pronouncement. The country was burning, and that is why we were brought in. How, why, the answer is blowing in the wind.

"Those who are responsible for that are supposed to be invisible, the intelligence fraternity operates in that way.

"Let those who are supposed to provide the answer, provide the answer; the defence force is combat ready to fight and defend the country," Maphwanya told the commission.

He said not more than 22 500 soldiers were deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.  

Maphwanya said the deployment of the defence force was not to "go out and scare" but to protect and defend.

"We took our assets, brought them to both Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. We brought [those] assets first as a deterrent to ensure people feel safe and they are ensured and the unrest come to an end."

He told the commission that the defence force was initially only supposed to be deployed for a month, but the SA Police Service requested a further three months.

He said it was also open for extension if the situation had not calmed down.

Evidence leaders pressed Maphwanya on the possibility of defence force members carrying rubber bullets as minimum force, but he said that would "never happen".

"We go there to defend and protect and during the process of defend and protect should there be anybody who undermines the Constitution and challenge the rule of law in a way that it threatens the democracy... we don't encourage people to fire warning shots.

"When you have now declared that this person is a threat to the state and is threatening democracy then that person is qualified as the enemy and enemies are treated as enemies.

"The enemy must know that the SANDF will never carry rubber bullets. We are not going to give soldiers rubber bullets; they are trained to fight war. The SANDF will never be issued with rubber bullets, the SANDF has never been created to be against our people," he said.

Source: News24

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