Mapisa-Nqakula: Security cluster was nearly caught with its pants down

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said President Cyril Ramaphosa was unhappy that only 2,500 soldiers had been deployed and proposed 10,000.

An SANDF soldier on patrol in Alexandra on 13 July 2021 following days of rioting and looting in the township. Picture: Boikhutso Ntsoko/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - The number of soldiers deployed to help quash rampant looting and arson in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal is set to be increased ten-fold.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she had asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to order the deployment of 25,000 soldiers in the strife-torn provinces.

The minister was addressing Parliament’s joint Standing Committee on Defence on Wednesday night.

The initial deployment was 2,500 troops. On Wednesday afternoon, acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told reporters that 5,000 defence force members had already been sent to the two provinces.

Mapisa-Nqakula said President Ramaphosa was unhappy that only 2,500 soldiers had been deployed and proposed 10,000.

Meanwhile, opposition party leaders he met with on Wednesday all backed deploying 75,000, including reserve forces – the number said to have been deployed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mapisa-Nqakula said they sought a middle way between the two numbers: “So we’ve now submitted a request for deployment of plus, minus 25,000 members.”

It’s clear that the government is also planning a show of force: “Because we believe that visibility should not just be visibility of warm bodies, it should be visibility of vehicles, it should be visibility of helicopters – helicopter patrols. So that is what we are trying to do,” the defence minister said.

It’s unclear how long it will take for the deployment of all 25,000 defence force members in the battle to restore order.

Mapisa-Nqakula said it could not happen overnight as troops were stationed all over the country.

Parliament’s joint Standing Committee on Defence will reconvene in two or three days to consider the plan once it is finalised.

PANTS DOWN

Mapisa-Nqakula has admitted that police and her department were caught unawares by attacks launched on malls by looters and vandals.

She told the committee that neither the army nor the police had any intelligence that a wave of arson and looting at shopping centres was about to unfold.

She said as a peacetime deployment, troops were sent where the police needed support – and were put on guard at national key points.

“This was an eye opener for us in the security cluster. This was a learning curve, and we were nearly caught with – I don’t want to say our pants down - but that’s a reality, I think that’s what happened.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said information obtained from social media was 90% accurate in identifying planned road closures.

“Where we did not get information, was the fact that people were going to go into the malls and loot… we did not have that information. At least on our side, and from what I am getting, even the police did not have that information.”

Asked about the quality of intelligence the Department of Defence received the minister was hesitant.

“There was intelligence, I think – but it came in too late.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said what was happening must stop: “What we see here are seeds of counter-revolution, undermining of the state and the state must exert its authority.”

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