Check before you speak, Minister!


South African Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula needs to verify her facts before she speaks, or risk further embarrassment to the South African National Defence Force.

The minister recently made a faux pas when she referred to the wrong person as recipient of the United Nation’s Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage.

In May Malawian soldier Private Chancy Chitete was named as the recipient of the Mbaye Diagne Medal. He was posthumously awarded the medal for “heroism and sacrifice” displayed while deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo helping MONUSCO peacekeepers dislodge opposition ADF forces and saving the life of a wounded comrade.

If Mapisa-Nqakula is to be believed the medal was awarded to SA Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopter pilot Lieutenant Colonel Stefan King. She told Parliament his “display of remarkable courage under enemy fire earned him the United Nations Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage. His actions and those of his crew in this high threat situation, is the hallmark of the valour and battle skills we strive for in our armed forces”.

King was nominated for the medal but the UN awarded it to the Malawian. The second-in-command of 19 Squadron received a letter of commendation from the world body in appreciation of his valour. defenceWeb first reported on the nomination late in May. With the exception of the incorrect mention by the Minister, neither the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), SAAF nor the Department of Defence (DoD) has made any public statement about the lieutenant colonel’s heroics.

The Minister has also embarrassed herself when in 2016 she accused the South African Air Force Museum of stealing SAAF aircraft, resulting in insufficient numbers of aircraft in active service.

Another side of the apparent neglect South Africa’s military management sometimes has for those in its service comes after the death of three SA Navy personnel in Durban ahead of the Armed Forces Day commemoration in the port city two years ago.

Leading Seaman Amrithlall Tothara Ramdin, Able Seaman Francois William Mundell and Seaman Henro Ter Borg all died attempting to rescue workers caught in a gas leak at Naval Base Durban. Their valiant actions were noted by Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane, with indications all three would be nominated for the Order of Mendi for Bravery. This has not yet happened.