Air and road transport enlisted to move SA soldiers to DR Congo


The last stop in South Africa for soldiers posted to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the SA Army mobilisation centre at De Brug outside Bloemfontein in Free State.

The previous practice of flying from Bloemfontein’s Bram Fisher Airport on a UN approved carrier is no longer operational, according to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) communication officers.

Troop transport to the DRC from South Africa now sees troops travelling by chartered bus from the mobilisation centre to OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) in Ekurhuleni. Here the next rotation for the RSABATT (Republic of South Africa Battalion) component of MONUSCO’s force intervention brigade (FIB) boards a civilian airliner bound for Goma in the eastern DRC.

Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, Director: Defence Corporate Communication (DCC) at Defence Headquarters, confirmed this arrangement.

“The SANDF confirms the whole 21 SA Infantry Battalion rotation to DRC will be carried through ORTIA since the Mango Airline contract with Airport Company of SA expired in the year 2020 and the SANDF is not in a position to discuss legality of that contract (sic).

“The SANDF further confirms this practice of airlifting the South African contingent from ORTIA to DRC started in 2020. Since then, soldiers were bused (moved by road) from Bloemfontein to ORTIA (sic),” Mahapa said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry.

Utilisation of an unknown carrier at South Africa’s premier international airport to fly soldiers was brought to defenceWeb’s attention by a posting on a SANDF social media account.

It read, in part, a lecture on pre-flight procedures regarding carrying of “dangerous goods”. Similar presentations happen before “every flight to equip the outgoing force of the do’s and don’ts at ORTIA”.

As an aside, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his delegation this week flew to Nigeria aboard a charted South African Airways A320, as part of a regional visit. The Presidential jet, Inkwazi, is undergoing a C check and is unavailable. Asked about the status of the Boeing 737-ED (ZS-RSA), DCC said it “was not mandated to speak on Presidential issues” and advised defenceWeb to contact the Presidency. Ramaphosa’s four nation West African whistle stop tour is supported by a 28 Squadron C-130BZ.