There is no cause for alarm and nothing unusual about the deployment of more than 400 soldiers at the State of the Nation Address, secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana has insisted.
And the soldiers would have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining law and order in Parliament, because it is outside of their mandate, he said on Wednesday.
This comes after President Jacob Zuma announced the “employment of 441 SANDF members to maintain law and order with the SAPS for SONA”.
Trying to dispel, what he termed, misinformation about the duties the soldiers would perform on Thursday, Mgidlana told News24 that this years’s SONA would not be a “security event”.
It was still an event for the people, he insisted.
Functions normally performed by SANDF members during SONA include: door openers, guards of honour, military band, flag bearers, ceremonial motorcycle escort, and the gun salute.
And that was all they would be doing again this year, Mgidlana said.
Law and order
The president had to employ the SANDF members as they [SANDF] had no jurisdiction, he said.
“If he doesn’t do that, then they can’t participate in the SONA. I don’t know where this misinformation is coming from, but it is important to note that the president has to deploy the military after a request from the minister’s office,” he said.
Mgidlana was quick to quell fears that the number of deployed SANDF members was excessive this year, saying SONA was a big event, but the soldiers were merely there to perform duties outside of law and order.
“The use of the term law and order is not the same as what would happen if there was violence in communities, for example, and the army was called in to assist. This is not that scenario. There is no violence right now as we speak. We are not anticipating violence scenarios,” Mgidlana said.
He was adamant that the soldiers would not be engaged should violence break out in the National Assembly.
“Absolutely not. That is not their job there. The army bring the band; the last time there was strike at Parliament we were able to use their cooks, some as drivers. They did not have any ammunition whatsoever,” he said.
Mgidlana said they wanted to do away with the image that Parliament was under siege and could not function without help from the police.
This was still the people’s Parliament, he insisted, and there would be the usual engagements with the Cabinet ministers and leaders following address.
It is and always has been a celebratory event, he said, and the army added to that.
There were people who had applied to march in the city during the day on Thursday, he said, and they were liaising with the city of Cape Town and the police about those protests.
The army, he again reiterated, would not be involved.
“We really want to dispel the notion that this is a securitisation the event. We live in a democratic country and we encourage people to participate.”
The deployment of more than 400 SANDF members has raised the ire of political parties, who view it as a declaration of war.