Viewpoint: Prospect of Military Educational Roles during Public Health Crises - Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Africa
This viewpoint paper examines the prospect of an effective educational role for the military during public health crises. Reflecting a broad understanding of environmental education as education to protect the public space, the authors argue that the military could provide this during times of crises. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa included the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), thus offering a unique opportunity to inquire into this contentious possibility. At the outset of the outbreak, some scholars deemed the SANDF unfit to make any meaningful contribution to the fight against the novel coronavirus. Leadership and coordination hurdles, a longstanding legitimacy crisis and inadequate training, may justify this pessimistic view. Based on available literature and document analysis, the authors propose the viewpoint that the military can play a progressive environmental educational role during crises if (1) its educational programmes such as green soldiering are intensified, widened and adequately informed by training; (2) if more is made of the experience, cultural insights and personnel gain during peacekeeping missions; (3) if healthy civil-military relations are prioritised, along with (4) military professionalism, supported by a deeper understanding in society of the diversity of roles and skills the military could offer. The military itself needs to recognise this and not train all personnel as if they are about to enter combat with an enemy. Should these elements be present, the security forces could indeed be a force for good during times of public health crises.
Keywords: COVID-19, civil-military relations, environmental education, pandemics, SANDF
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