No warning shots and no foul language, soldiers deployed to stop looting told

No warning shots and no foul language, soldiers deployed to stop looting told


A member of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) patrols the streets on 13 July 2021 in Soweto. (Photo by James Oatway/Getty Images)

  • Soldiers deployed to stop looters have been told they may not fire warning shots.
  • They also must not assault members of the public, or use foul language.
  • The code of conduct for Operation Prosper, published on Wednesday, makes it clear that police are in charge of re-establishing order, with the military in a strictly supportive role – albeit with the right to self defence.
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Members of the military deployed to help quell looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have been expressly forbidden from firing any warning shots.

They are also not supposed to swear.

“Do not fire warning shots,” soldiers are told, in procedures to be followed when dealing with “Road blockages/Public Unrest and/or Looting”, in the code of conduct for Operation Prosper, published on Wednesday.

“The firing of warning shots is prohibited,” they are told when it comes to general force protection.

“Exercise personal restraint and do not assault members of the public,” reads another section of the code.

Operation Prosper, the deployment of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night, has been expanded from an initial maximum of 2,500 troop to what the government said reached 5,000 by Wednesday.

The deployment is in support of the SA Police Service (SAPS), Ramaphosa said, and that has been heavily emphasised since, and again in the operation’s official code of conduct.

“Upholding and enforcement of the law within the Republic remains the primary responsibility of the SAPS,” the document says, on the general principles of the operation.

“The SANDF’s cooperation with SAPS is limited to protection of life and property during crime combating operations,” it says about specific procedures to be followed.

While support police, soldiers are expected to “always treat the public with respect and human dignity and exercise a high level of tolerance and restraint.”

They may not “use foul language when communicating with the media or civilians” – and are not supposed to make “any unauthorised statements” to either the media or public to begin with.

Broadly speaking, their conduct may not damage the image of the SANDF, the document says.

Soldiers are told that they may exercise their right to self defence “where life is threatened and/or where there is an imminent threat of serious injury or destruction of property”, but minimum force must be used.

Tactical commanders may issue specific orders, the code of conduct says, but any “material deviations” must be approved at the highest level. 

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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