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Armed forces battle COVID-19

Written by Jauhara Khan

The night before South Africa entered its national lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a moving address to members of the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“Tonight, you begin the most important calling of your mission: To save the lives of South Africans.”

Among the soldiers stood a proud Lieutenant Mamosala Tsoane, of Platoon 2 Charlie Company in the SANDF’s 21 South African Infantry Battalion. She has served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and at various border posts in South Africa during her 15-year career with the armed forces. 

For the lockdown, Tsoane was deployed to Alexandra township. She was one of thousands of SANDF soldiers across the country at the frontline of efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
Tsoane says she felt a mix of emotions before the lockdown.

“This situation was a new experience for all of us. We knew Gauteng had a high number of coronavirus cases, but we didn’t know where it would spread. People were also not aware of how dangerous the virus was, and how quickly it could spread. People live close to each other and the virus could bring down the whole township. We knew it would be challenging to get people to listen to us and stay home.”

The streets of Alexandra were packed with people on the first day of the lockdown, says Tsoane. 

“Some residents did not even know there was a lockdown. Many were angry that they were being forced to stay indoors.” 

It took time for residents to accept the regulations of the lockdown, but many were happy to have the SANDF present because it led to a decrease in crime. 

Tsoane worked in 12-hour shifts from 6am to 6pm. Her duties included conducting foot patrols and vehicle control checks. She also counselled residents about the impact of the virus and precautions they needed to take.
 
Despite wearing protective gear, Tsoane knew she was still at risk of contracting the virus. Soldiers were screened daily for symptoms and if necessary, transferred to nearby hospitals for further testing.

Tsoane was stationed at the Doornkop Military Base in Johannesburg, away from family, including her 10-year-old son.

Serving with honour

Tsoane says despite the risks of her deployment, being called to serve the country during this global crisis was a special honour. 

“This is not an ordinary job. We risk our lives every day not knowing what we will face. Not everyone can do it. But our superiors have placed their trust in us and this is the time to show that we are here when our country needs us.