President Jacob Zuma’s authorisation to deploy more than 400 members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to “maintain law and order” ahead and during his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday evening is indicative of a weak state that is surrounded by paranoia.
According to analysts, a military presence at Sona could only further aggravate the situation should there be any forms of protest planned around the parliamentary precinct.
Over the last two years since the installation of the EFF as members of parliament, the House has seen its fair share of disruptions – some culminating in being largely physical, resulting in injuries.
Moreover, the presidency’s statement just two days ahead of Sona, that 441 SANDF members would being deployed “for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service (SAPS)”, showed no explanation to the public at large of how it would carry out its duties, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
“Are they going to deploy under the supervision of police? If so, then government must indicate that,” said the ISS’s head of conflict management and peace building, Annette Leijenaar.
“Through proactive communication with citizens, this can be communicated properly to prevent anxiety and so forth.”
Leijenaar added that protesters could also further aggravate the situation.
“The normal man in the street should feel safe with police – and now you deploy police and military … what should they think? You aggravate people when you put the military in place.”
She said the military could be deployed in support and under command of police when government had a potential security situation.
“But this is never a pleasant thing to see, especially with what we see in the rest of Africa.”
The military cannot be deployed for these circumstance if they don’t come under command or control of police.”
Political analyst Daniel Silke said this move showed the ruling ANC to be “frustrated and tired of what should be a showpiece without it being disrupted”.
“For three years, it (Sona) has been overshadowed by protests. This is a heavy-handed attempt to restore decorum to the classic rituals.”
Silke said “the heavy-handed manner in which this is being accomplished”, was “indicative of the rising competitiveness in our politics”.
By virtue of needing the army to protect it, it is an admission by government of its disappointment.
“A government that’s struggling to alleviate the plight of its people is using these tactics.
“It’s indicative of a weak state, and it’s ironic that whatever the contents of his speech, it will be characterised by a militarised event outside,” he added.
“It would seem to be paranoia and politically motivated for the justification of the protection of the president. Its politically motivated paranoia. It shows the ANC has largely lost the capacity to engage with the people of South Africa.”
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said the key question pointed to the real need for the military employment.
“Is it that they are expecting someone to assassinate the president or have they invited friends who are not really popular here?”
He echoed that this could also show a level of paranoia.
“So maybe let’s rather overreact than underreact.”
He added that police were more than able to do the job in maintaining calm and order.
“There is nothing wrong with them.”
But Leijenaar’s view was the opposite.
“By deploying military in support of police, parliament and the president admits that the police are not capable. They must be concerned that police aren’t able to maintain control.
“Is the acting police commissioner enabled to get his staff up to speed?”
This was, further, embarrassing for police, Leijenaar said, “because it’s a policing task”.