Exercise personal restraint: South African govt to troops deployed to quell looting, arson

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Johannesburg, Jul 18 (PTI) The South African government has asked the army to not fire warning shots, exercise personal restraint and use less than lethal ammunition where possible as it deployed 25,000 troops over the weekend in troubled areas to assist local police in curbing the widespread looting and violence, sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

The code of conduct for the soldiers are contained in a government gazette issued by the Department of Defence and Military Veterans after the South African Defence Force (SADF) was mobilised to assist the members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) hugely outnumbered by the rampaging mobs, which caused damage of billions of rands in a week-long period of looting and arson.

“Upholding and enforcement of the law within the Republic remains the primary responsibility of the SAPS,” the document stated.

Dubbed Operation PROSPER, the document emphasised that the level of SANDF’s cooperation with the police is restricted to protecting life and property during crime combating operations.

Protests that started after the jailing of Zuma on 7 July rapidly turned violent, with shopping centres and warehouses looted and set alight by rioters.

Zuma was sentenced to 15-month imprisonment by the country’s apex court for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where several witness have implicated him in corruption.

According to the document, the troops must also, wherever possible, record events either in writing or by means of video/audio recordings and not use foul language when communicating with the media or civilians.

“Exercise a high tolerance level to provocation/insults and/or disrespect aimed at you or SAPS members; warn civilians to cease with such behaviour; do not assault civilians and do not run away when attacked by civilians,” it said.

“When the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is employed in cooperation with the SAPS, SANDF members have the same powers and authority as the SAPS, excluding the investigation of crime. Notwithstanding this, SANDF members may perform tasks and duties they are adequately trained and equipped for,” the document said.

But these rules did not prohibit the soldiers from exercising their right to self-defence.

“This right to self-defence may be exercised to defend oneself, other members, prime mission equipment, property, SAPS members and any member of the public where life is threatened and/or where there is an imminent threat of serious injury or destruction of property,” the document said.

The document is seen by analysts as a cautionary one after there were a number of complaints of heavy-handedness and ill-treatment of civilians by SANDF members who were brought in to enforce the total lockdown of the country during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

To avoid similar situation, SANDF members have been told to apply the principal of minimum force, depending on the weapon issued to them, experts opine.

Relative calm was restored across the country after the troops moved in to quell the widespread unrest. PTI FH SCY SCY

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