South African President deploys troops to national broadcaster station amid growing coup fears

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The SABC has confirmed that members of the South African National Defence Force have been deployed at its offices in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and in Durban.

The deployment of the soldiers has raised eyebrows across South Africa.

Yesterday, soldiers armed with rifles could be seen at the SABC Henley Studio Park, while others patrolled outside.

When news of the developments surfaced online, some citizens were concerned by the military presence inside the state broadcaster. However, Group Executive of Corporate Affairs and Marketing, Gugu Ntuli, has ‘dismissed with contempt’ any allegations that the army is trying to influence the newsroom.

“This deployment is in light of the recent unrest. As a National Key Point Area, delivering an essential service to the nation, and considering the recent attacks on the SABC journalists, it was deemed necessary that the physical premises and the employees working in these offices be protected.”

The SANDF says they were deployed to National Key Points during the riots in July, and SABC premises are part of the deployment.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi says the deployment will remain until they are told to withdraw.

“Our soldiers, when the violence started, the unrest, we started deploying our soldiers to national keypoint areas. The SABC was one of them. We deploy our soldiers to most of the SABC stations. And then this deployment will continue until we receive instruction from the Commander in Chief that our soldiers must start withdrawing from the areas where they are.”

The deployment of the army is common practice when situations of unrest arise, an SABC employee said on Sunday.

“Remember, SABC is also a National Key Point. So it’s really nothing extraordinary,” said the employee.

This comes as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was on Saturday deployed to the SABC’s Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal premises following the recent deadly looting which ravaged the two provinces.

SABC spokesperson Gugu Ntuli confirmed that the SANDF has not been deployed to their Cape Town and Gqeberha offices.

Ntuli added that, as a National Key Point delivering an essential service to the nation and considering the recent attacks on SABC journalists, it was deemed necessary that the physical premises and the employees working in these offices be protected.

She said the deployment was at most of its National Key Point premises around the country, including its headquarters in Auckland Park.

Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said the deployment of the SANDF to the public broadcaster is of no significance unless the Presidency has been informed of an insurrection.

“I think this is probably just precautionary in case people want to cause trouble in the country again. In history, the first thing that’s always done when staging a coup is an attack on the broadcasting centres. Protecting the SABC buildings is probably part of a standard roll-out plan because when there is unrest in an area, you automatically do that,” said Heitman.

He added: “There are contingency plans. When there’s unrest, there’s a list of things or buildings which need to be protected. I don’t think there is anything sinister. However, it is possible that they have the intelligence that someone plans to occupy the buildings, but more likely it is just a routine of what they do in these situations.”