Political Watch

Military backup – Zuma government admits fear of losing control

Battledress for parliament?
Battle dress.jpg

Effectively imposing martial law on the Cape Town CBD area surrounding parliament for the 2017 opening of parliament and the president’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) revealed government’s fear that it is losing control.

In what might still turnout to be an unlawful move, President Jacob Zuma early last week announced his authorisation of the deployment of 441 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) “to maintain law and order during the opening of parliament”. It revealed much more about his government than he probably intended.

While, in terms of the constitution and other legislation, the SANDF can only become involved with the SAPS’ exclusive mandate regarding domestic “law and order”, under exceptional circumstances, no such reasons were given – not even to parliament as required by law.

Even the presiding officers of both house of parliament were left in the dark, as admitted by the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, who told the media they did not have reasons for the president’s signing of the ‘authorisation’.

It, however, ties in neatly with arguments in an insightful article on The Conversation (TC) website about the global tendency to use military power on the domestic front. In this case, in South Africa, it states: “In the case of the deployment of the military at parliament … it is apparent that the decision is politically driven as it’s being used to threaten an increasingly vocal political opposition to the president.”

In another study by the Routledge Taylor & Francis Group on the use of the military for other purposes than formal war, it is warned that, “When political instability increases, leaders may choose to use their country’s armed forces internally, which can broaden the goals and content of military strategy from external defence to include regime security”.

Signs of this global tendency, especially in developing countries, can also be found in countries of Southeast Asia,

Other factors like international terrorism and market forces getting involved in the military equipment industry in the absence of major formal wars in recent years, also play a role.

“The uses of armed forces in policing functions expanded from the 1980s onwards in the US, Canada and a number of Western countries.

“Much of this has to do with the fact that there are fewer wars than before, although there’s been an uptick since 2013. As a result, militaries are losing their reason to exist, and the arms industry is losing profits,” the TC argues.

Should not be a surprise

The article also states the announcement by Zuma should be “no surprise to the South African public. The government has been trying to justify a domestic role for the military for some time.

“Deployed initially in border control functions, there’s been an increase in the joint deployment of the South African National Defence Force and the police in a range of domestic policing functions. One example is the controversial crime-fighting blitz Operation Fiela in 2015.”

In this regard the Democratic Alliance’s request for the deployment of the military in Cape Town’s ‘gangland’ might only have served to play into the Zuma-government’s hands.

Even more so, to plead once more – for the sake of scoring political points –for military intervention in townships to fight gangsterism, instead of better police resourcing on that front, is probably not strategically well thought through.

Wild card

The TC article also warns that the move by the regime is not only dangerous for democracy and the doctrine of the separation of power, but “the Zuma administration is playing a wild card. The military is industrialised and unionised. There is evidence that a significant number of soldiers see themselves not just as soldiers but as workers who are exploited. Therein lies a problem for the ANC government.

“If the current administration put soldiers in front of exploited, protesting workers (or other protesters), and they are told to shoot, what would they do? What if they refused? Can they really risk a rebellion in the military, which really would amount to mutiny?”

In this regard, it is important to note that both the SA National Defence Union (SANDU) and the SA Police Union (SAPU) have condemned the deployment of the SANDF for “law and order” duties surrounding the opening of parliament and the delivery of the Sona by the president.

SAPU president, Mpho Kwinika, said: “If it is an operational call‚ what kind of threat is there that warrants people such as soldiers who are trained to use excessive force?

“The police have units which have sufficient force such as the tactical response team‚ national intervention unit and the special task force to deal with high risk threats.”

SANDU spokesman Jeff Dubazana laid his finger on one of the core problems, saying: “There should be what we call a signal, a legal document explaining the purpose of the deployment. Our soldiers have not been given this, they were simply given a verbal instruction.

“If at the end people get injured or killed, to what extent are our members going to be liable, especially if ... it is found that this deployment is illegal and unlawful because it doesn’t comply with the constitution.”

Shocking investors

As the whole spectacle was unfolding, there were more than 6 000 investors from 71 countries around the world in Cape Town, attending the annual Investing in African Mining Indaba.

Even before the real action and drama on Thursday started, some of the attendees at the indaba witnessed not only the high profile of the police in the city CBD, but how they tore down anti-Zuma and other protest banners. And to boot, they experienced how the police confronted people taking photos of their actions and threatened to relieve them of their cell phones.

The government’s ‘wild card’ started going wrong very early in the day.

Just about a year ago we argued in an article that South Africa is “finely balanced between autocracy and democracy”. In November 2016 we wrote that “South African democracy [is] in mortal danger from within”.

We just might soon report that true parliamentary democracy died in the country on 9 February 2017.

by Bulletin Team

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