Ramaphosa extends SANDF deployments

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President and Commander-in-Chief Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised extensions of the employment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and for Operation Copper maritime security patrols in the Mozambique Channel.

Parliament on 18 April in its Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports document published the two authorisation letters from the President, both dated 15 April.

With regard to the DRC authorisation, this covers the employment of 1 198 members of the SANDF serving with the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Members of the SANDF employed will continue, under MONUSCO, with the effort to neutralise negative forces and illegal armed groups by restoring peace and security in the DRC under Operation Mistral over the of period 16 April 2024 to 20 December 2024,” Ramaphosa stated.

The expenditure expected to be incurred for this deployment amounts to R805 057 755.

The MONUSCO mission is exiting the DRC this year, with the initial phase of exit seeing the withdrawal of MONUSCO military and police forces from South Kivu by June. In terms of an agreement between DRC President Felix Tshisekedi’s government and the United Nations, the mission will exit the country by December this year when its mandate expires.

In December 2023, MONUSCO’s authorised troop ceiling was 13 500 military personnel, 660 military observers and staff officers, 591 police personnel and 1 410 personnel of formed police units until 30 June 2024. South Africa, with 1 144 military personnel, was number five on the top ten military contributing countries to MONUSCO. It, along with Malawi and Tanzania, make up the mission’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the lone formation in the UN’s various peacekeeping structures to have an offensive clause in its mandate. Number one in troop contributing countries to MONUSCO is India (1 834) followed by Pakistan (1 767), Bangladesh (1 640) and Nepal (1 147) before South Africa in fifth place.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) will fill much of the gap left by MONUSCO’s departure. SAMIDRC at present has a 12 month mandate which, according to the South African government, ends on 15 December.

Apart from confirmation of 2 900 South African military personnel being contributed under Operation Thiba (although only around 600 are presently deployed), there is no information from the SADC on Malawian and Tanzanian troop numbers that will contribute to the SAMIDRC force, which is set to be 5 000-strong. The South African deployment will cost R2.37 billion.

Earlier this month the SADC said that, “As part of the SAMIDRC, a SADC regional force from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania and elements of the DRC Armed Forces are working with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), in fighting armed groups operating in eastern DRC.”

SAMIDRC troops have already taken casualties, with two South African soldiers killed and three injured in an M23 mortar attack on 14 February, and three Tanzanian soldiers killed by rebel mortar fire on 8 April, with another three injured.

There is concern that SAMIDRC forces will not be able to dominate their environment as they lack troop numbers, vehicles, intelligence, and air support.

Maritime security

Ramaphosa’s second letter covers the continued employment of SANDF members “for service in fulfilment of an international obligation of the Republic of South Africa towards the Southern African Development Community Maritime Security Strategy (SADC MSS).”

Ramaphosa notified the National Assembly that he has extended the employment of 200 SANDF members “in order to counter the threat of piracy and other related illegal maritime activities along the Southern African coast of the Indian Ocean.”

He went on to state that, “members of the SANDF employed will continue with the responsibilities of countering the threat of piracy and other related illegal maritime activities under SADC MSS Operation Copper over the of period 1 April 2024 to 31 March 2025.”

The cost of this deployment amounts to R35 325 852.

The SADC-initiated and approved tasking aims to prevent piracy and crime at sea in the busy shipping lane east of the sub-continent. South Africa is the lead nation providing maritime and limited airborne platforms, with Mozambican military personnel aboard whichever SA Navy platform is on station. Due to a lack of ships, the South African Navy has struggled to undertake Operation Copper patrols in recent years.

According to the most recent Department of Defence annual report, “no Op Copper long-range patrols were conducted during FY2022/23 due to SA Navy prime mission equipment not being operationally available as required.”