76,000 troops were made available to enforce lockdown. Looters will face 2,500 – for now.

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 16: A general view
(Roger Sedres/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • "Operation Prosper", the military deployment in response to looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, has been limited to 2,500 troops.
  • That is a far cry from the 76,000 strong force made available to help enforce lockdown restrictions, at the height of use of the SANDF.
  • But that contingent was ramped up after a small initial deployment.
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A maximum of 2,500 troops will be used in "Operation Prosper", the deployment in response to widespread looting in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

That compares to a force of 76,000 that was made available to enforce lockdown rules early in the pandemic.

But the first deployment of soldiers to police Covid-19 restrictions was of just about a similar size, and the number of soldiers sent to support police in quelling violence and theft could, likewise, be rapidly ramped up.

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced the 2,500-strong contingent by publication in the Government Gazette on Monday night, putting in place the legal requirements for a move announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in an address to the nation.

"As the Commander-in-Chief of the South African Defence Force, I have today authorised the deployment of Defence Force personnel in support of the operations of the South African Police Service," said Ramaphosa – as part of "mobilising all available resources and capabilities to restore order".

The formal notice by his defence minister was limited in scope, though, providing for "the employment of 2,500 members of the South African National Defence Force... for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service for the prevention and combating of crime and maintenance and preservation of law and order in the Republic of South Africa for Operation PROSPER."

The authority for their deployment is valid for three months, until October 2021.

That date, and the employment number, act as legal ceilings. The actual "duration and number of deploying soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground by the relevant law enforcement agencies", the SANDF said on Monday.

If needs be, the legal limit on the size of the deployment can be rapidly increased, the Covid-19 response has previously shown. When the government first started to react to the spread the coronavirus, in March 2020, Ramaphosa employed a contingent of 2,820 troops to help police enforce brand new rules on travel and gathering. In later April he added another 73,180 – at significant cost.

The price of the use of the defence force would hit some R4.6 billion, Parliament said at the time.

* The headline of this article was updated after publication to better reflect its content, in that 76,000 troops were made available to enforce lockdown rules, rather than moved into active deployment in the field.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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