Addressing over 600 soldiers at the Doornkop army base in the south of Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said that while the Covid-19 infection rate stood at 927 on Thursday night, it could increase to 1,500 over the course of a few days.
“This is not a moment for skop en donder. This is not a moment for skiet en donder,” the president said.
Ramaphosa pleaded with the armed forces to save lives and assist in the fight against Covid-19.
Ramaphosa — dressed in army regalia — was flanked by the minister of defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, her deputy Thabang Makwetla and SANDF chief General Solly Shoke.
The army will assist police in enforcing the 21-day lockdown which begins at midnight on Thursday.
Ramaphosa dubbed the mission a mercy mission.
“This was a very difficult decision to come to but it is a decision that had to be made to save the lives of our people,” he said.
Ramaphosa conceded that the army may be provoked but urged them to exercise restraint.
“There are those who will want to take chances. Nudge them in the right direction. Tell them they are challenging the state, they are challenging the president,” he said.