Lockdown In South Africa: The Deployment Of The Army

As a civilian, do you understand the role of the army?

27 March 2020 was officially the first day of the lockdown in South Africa. The country has followed the precedent China set in combating COVID-19. A State of Disaster has been declared along with a lockdown. As a means of enforcing the lockdown, the army has been deployed to assist the South African Police Service.

1. Why should the army be deployed?

In an address to the South African people on 23 March 2020, President Rampoesa stated the following:

“It is clear from the development of the disease in other countries and from our own modeling that immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country...”

If the army is not deployed to assist the police in implementing the lockdown, South African may very well face a humanitarian disaster.

2. When can the army be deployed?

The Constitution mandates the police service to maintain the public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law. The army (South African National Defence Force) can only be deployed to assist the South African Police Service (“SAPS”) in exceptional cases. Certainly, there is a pressing need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through a country which is characterised by high levels of poverty, overcrowding, a poor healthcare system and worrying statistics of HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis and Diabetes.

3. Where is the army deployed?

Currently, the army has been deployed to every province.

4. Can the army use force?

Yes, but the army has been ordered to use minimum force.

5. Legal requirements of the deployment?

According to the Constitution, only the President has the authority to deploy the army to act alongside SAPS. However, the President must inform Parliament of the reasons concerning the employment, locations where the force is situated, the amount of people involved and the period which the army will be deployed for. Therefore, for the purposes of the lockdown, the army can only be deployed to certain areas for the specified period of 21 days.

6. Is the army subject to the law?

The army must act within the perimeters of the Constitution and section 18 and 19 of the Defence Act.

7. What does the Defence Act state?

In addition to the deployment of the army for the purpose of assisting SAPS in their duties, the army may be deployed for service in within the Republic to preserve life, health or property in emergency or humanitarian relief operations; ensure the provision of essential services; support any department of state, including support for purposes of socio-economic upliftment; and effect national border control.

8. What measures will the army take to enforce the lockdown

The army will most likely assist with roadblocks, searching vehicles, and protecting shops and hospitals.


On 28 March 2020, an incident of SAPS and the army using a disproportionate amount of force against civilians surfaced. The disturbing report took place at Yeoville, in Johannesburg, where hundreds of shoppers outside a Shoprite were fired at with rubber bullets. While the lockdown permits South Africans to buy essential items, social distancing must be adhered to. Nevertheless, the army has been instructed to use a minimum amount of force in implementing the lockdown and shooting bullets at South Africans who are attempting to buy necessary goods will only increase levels of fear and distrust against both the police and army.