The chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), General Solly Shoke, has described the fight against Covid-19 as akin to World War III and asked people to stop endangering the lives of others.
On Wednesday morning, Shoke, accompanied by other generals, visited soldiers who have been deployed to various roadblocks in Pretoria to assist the police in enforcing lockdown regulations.
"This is a total lockdown. People should stop behaving in a manner that is unbecoming and that is threatening the lives of our people," he told them.
Shoke was referring to people who have been disregarding the lockdown, carrying on with their lives as usual and not staying at home as mandated by the regulations.
READ | Over 17 000 people arrested since lockdown kicked off
On 3 April, News24 reported more than 17 000 people were arrested since the lockdown for various crimes, including contravening lockdown regulations.
Human life is more important than individual rights
Throwing down the gauntlet, Shoke, while addressing the soldiers, had harsh words for people who were disobeying the regulations.
"There are those who speak of human rights. All of us must enjoy our human rights, but human life is more important than individual human rights. You are out there to protect human lives and those who threaten human lives must be dealt with accordingly within the confines of the law."
Shoke said some people did not care about the lives of others and the law should be enforced on them.
He added people should not test the patience of soldiers, saying they were human beings too who deserved to be respected as much as they respected people.
"People should also behave in a manner that is expected of them as responsible citizens.
"I don't expect anyone undermining you and neither do I expect you to undermine the rights of others," Shoke told the soldiers.
Prepare for the worst
When asked if there are preparations afoot to extend the lockdown due to non-compliance of the regulations, he told News24: "At the pace at which our people are conducting themselves, maybe we should prepare ourselves for the worst.
"I'm not sure if you have seen what is happening in Italy, what's happening in New York, what's happening in Spain. It is incumbent on our people to take this virus seriously.
"As far as I am concerned, this is the Third World War fought in a different manner because the whole world is at war with the coronavirus."
Protect lives in a disciplined fashion
Shoke told the soldiers their mission was to protect lives and they should do so in a manner that was disciplined and befitting of the SANDF.
"Fellow officers, it is upon you to ensure that you conduct yourselves in a manner that shows respect to our people. Ensure our people appreciate the work you are doing. I hope we can get more messages of commendation for the good work that you are doing.
"We have a responsibility as the SANDF to ensure we protect the lives of our people and ensure that nobody and no virus should destroy the lives of our people because the lives of our people are very important."
Allegations of heavy handedness by soldiers
Shoke also confronted recent allegations of abuse and humiliation at the hands of soldiers during the lockdown, saying they still needed to be verified, but if soldiers were found to be in the wrong, they would be dealt with.
"I know there may have been negative articles in the media whereby soldiers are being accused of abusing people. I'd like to say to you that the opposite is happening."
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Speaking to News24 on the issue and what appears to be a reduction in these allegations surfacing, Shoke said he believed people were beginning to realise Covid-19 was a real danger and not a joke.
"In the beginning, people thought this was a joke, now they know it's real and see that there is no time to make jokes through social media."
He added people have started listening to law enforcement, but there were still some who, for whatever reason, were "malicious."
"Everybody must abide by the law and we expect people to comply. Yours is to enforce the law, you go there to enforce the law," Shoke told the soldiers.