ON TUESDAY night Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqukula announced that she had put military bases around the country on high alert for the first time since 1994 because former ANC Youth League Leader Julius Malema planned to speak to soldiers in Lenasia, South of Johannesburg.
It appears to be a decision that may have been sparked by panic, but has its roots in the deep-seated problems the defence force has with some soldiers.
It further appears to demonstrate that the ANC, and thus the government, is battling to contain Mr Malema as he visits areas of the country that are in conflict.
From a legal perspective, it appears it would be difficult to prevent Mr Malema from speaking to soldiers, so long as it was not on military property and the soldiers were off-duty.
So long as he did not incite violence, his comments would be protected. Thus, it would appear that Ms Mapisa-Nqukula may have made this decision based on fear of what his comments could provoke.
However, when she was asked whether she thought Mr Malema could provoke an army mutiny, she claimed that she "did not know what could happen", but stressed she was taking precautions. For his part, Mr Malema said he was "not planning any military coup" and that the minister "must take a chill pill". The minister was not amused by his advice.
It appears the main problem Ms Mapisa-Nqukula had to deal with was the after-effects of the march by 1,300 soldiers on the Union Buildings in 2009.
On Tuesday, the army confirmed that it would still proceed with charges against soldiers involved in that march despite a lengthy court battle over whether they could be fired and then reinstated. As a result of this, it appears the minister may have felt it possible that Mr Malema’s presence outside a military base could spark some sort of reaction that would then be difficult to contain.
For political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe, this suggests that there are problems in the leadership of the South African National Defence Force and that they, perhaps, don’t have full confidence in their soldiers. It begs the question, what advice is Ms Mapisa-Nqukula getting from her generals about the state of the military.
It also, however, points to an over-reaction to situations involving Mr Malema. He has toured around the country, visiting striking miners. His speech at a memorial service for those killed in Marikana sparked a walk-out by government ministers who were attending. It appears they still haven’t worked out how to contain him.
Mr Seepe says this points to the ANC needing to jack up its leadership. "The fact Mr Malema seems to be attracting a number of voices speaks to his capability, but it also speaks to the incapability of other people to manage that space."
He says, in the final analysis, part of the problem is the "conflict within the ANC (over Mr Malema), which remains unresolved, which is not good for the country".
This could, however, also point to questions about President Jacob Zuma’s wisdom in appointing Ms Mapisa-Nqakula to this office. She was widely criticised for how the Home Affairs Department functioned during her tenure there and did not appear to make much progress at Correctional Services.
Her political ability could be questioned as well. It was while she was leader of the ANC Women’s League that the organisation decided to support Mr Zuma, having previously supported Thabo Mbeki. As someone who appeared to actively campaign for Mr Mbeki during that time, it could be an example of someone not entirely in touch with the grassroots members of the organisation.
* Grootes is an Eyewitness News Reporter