President Cyril Ramaphosa has given members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) their marching orders hours before the country goes into lockdown.
“Go out and have the best of missions, this is a mercy mission, this is a life-restoration mission, this is a life-saving mission, this is a life-giving mission. Go out and save the lives of South Africans,” he said.
Ramaphosa was addressing the troops at the Doornkop army base in Soweto on Thursday evening, calling on them to execute their mission with respect and responsibility.
On Monday, he announced the country would be under lockdown, a week after declaring a national state of disaster.
Ramaphosa, who was dressed in army fatigues, told the soldiers he had done so in a bid to show them they had the support of their commander-in-chief.
This as the government tries to turn the tide against the coronavirus which hit South Africa on 5 March.
The virus has spread rapidly, with the country currently sitting with 927 confirmed cases.
The lockdown, which is set for 21 days, will see businesses shut down and South Africans confined to their homes, with the exception of essential workers.
The army, which has been deployed to support the police, will for the first time since the end of the repressive apartheid regime patrol residential areas across the country, this time not to terrorise, but to save lives.
Ramaphosa told the soldiers that people were worried and uncertain, calling on them to reassure them that things would be fine.
“They will be looking up to you to give them confidence that everything will be alright, they will be looking unto you not as a force of might but as a force of kindness.”
Addressing a video believed to be of a soldier threatening to use maximum force when dealing with civilians, Ramaphosa said this was not the time for “skop en donner”.
“This is not the time for skop en donner. This is a moment to be supportive of our people.”
He added the decision to deploy the army was difficult but necessary.
Ramaphosa told the soldiers they were not being deployed to hostile territory, saying he believed people would abide by the regulations that were issued.
While he continuously emphasised respect and the importance of not violating the rights of South Africans, he also addressed the approach he wanted to be adopted when dealing with those who sought to defy the state.
“Nudge them in the right direction, yes, nudge them in the right direction but of course if there’s resistance, do indicate to them that they are challenging the might of the South African state, the leadership of this country and they are challenging the president,” Ramaphosa said.