Reports of SANDF troops captured in the DRC dismissed as fake news

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The South African Departments of Defence and International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) have dismissed reports that several South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers have been captured by M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The website National Security News on 2 April reported that “several South African soldiers that were deployed by the ANC Government into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as part of an ill equipped and ill prepared force reportedly surrendered to the M23 rebels this past week. The soldiers are now reportedly being held as hostages by M23.”

The story, by an unnamed correspondent, did not cite any sources and appeared to be pro-Rwandan in its reporting of the conflict in the DRC and South Africa’s contribution to the Southern African Development Community Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC). It described the M23 rebels, for example, as being a ‘buffer’ between Rwanda and Congolese FDLR rebels, and said the M23 was established to protect Tutsi communities in the DRC from ‘genocidal’ FDLR attacks.

The unattributed story further claimed Rwanda as being “the only alternative and credible security force that is able to provide effective military assistance bilaterally against Islamist extremists to other members of the Africa Union (AU).”

Clayson Monyela, Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said last night that the story “is fake news. It’s propaganda by the handlers and funders of M23. No SANDF soldiers surrendered to those rebels.”

Department of Defence Head of Communication Siphiwe Dlamini on Wednesday said in a statement the SANDF “rejects with contempt any suggestion or inference that two of the South African soldiers deployed as part of the SADC Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (SAMIDRC) have surrendered to the M23 rebels as contained in some media reports.”

“We want to state it categorically that all SANDF members deployed in the DRC have been accounted for. The convoluted article published by the faceless Washington correspondent is dismissed with the contempt it deserves,” he added.

According to Dlamini, the National Security News story is not the first time “such unfounded and baseless news articles have been written about the SANDF since its deployment in the DRC under SAMIDRC. The SANDF views such attempts to discredit the defence force in the most serious light by faceless people, and will not standby and allow its good name to be tarnished.”

Experts have been warning that South Africa is not prepared to handle Rwandan disinformation and is too slow to respond to false allegations.