South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) could not receive a visit by the Goodwill Parcel Project’s (GWPP’s) team of sponsors on 6 December last year due to fighting in Beni, an eastern town of the country, close to the border of Uganda.
Fighting against armed rebel groups eased after the festive season and the previously postponed visit took place from 2 to 6 March this year. A cheery delegation of the Goodwill Parcel Project sponsors departed from Air Force Base Waterkloof on 2 March and landed in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. The first of two parcel hand-over events was held at the SA National Defence Force Special Component (SANDFSPECC) HQ in Kinshasa on 3 March.
This year the GWPP sponsors handed out travel bags to the SA FIB soldiers deployed under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). SA soldiers happily received their travel bags and received encouraging words of appreciation from the chairman of the civilian arm of the GWPP, Angel Ramphele, for all that SA soldiers do.
At the same time, SANDF Chaplain General Monwabisi Andrew Jamangile delivered strong words against sexual exploitation and abuse by SA soldiers in the DRC. “I am pleading with you to stop these things,” he said. “It started here at the deployment, where a lady was abused for six months by a senior officer to the extent that that lady decided to commit suicide.” The woman mentioned survived and was later visited by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who has since launched a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to investigate and reinvestigate cases of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA).
The second leg of the visit took place in Goma, an eastern town of the DRC bordering Rwanda. The GWPP sponsors landed at Goma International Airport on 4 March and were briefed at the Composite Helicopter Unit (CHU) which operates on the same runway as the Goma airport. The second hand-over event was held at the Ihusi Hotel in Goma. One of the sponsors, Thabo Matime, addressed the crowd, stating, “Us as citizens and corporate South Africans – we don’t see nor do we understand the work that our troops do. The value of that work and contribution leads to the growth and development of this continent.”
Jamangile gave a similar warning as the one in Kinshasa on SEA cases to the FIB troops in attendance in Goma as well as gave insight into the relations between the UN and South Africa in the DRC, saying, “the United Nations wants us out of here. They want us out because of the good job that we are doing. You [SA soldiers] are doing a good job here and people are not happy about that good job, some of the countries.”
Sponsors then handed out travel bags to soldiers, with some receiving football kits. The event concluded with a final vote of thanks with sponsors and soldiers interacting over dinner.
The delegations visit was deemed a success as they returned to South Africa on 6 March.
The Goodwill Parcel Project, which started in 2001, is designed to give a hand of support to deployed SANDF members and appreciate the good work they are doing to establish stability and peace across the continent and within South Africa. The delegation that visits troops and hands out gifts is one of the GWPP programmes along with the SANDF Spouses Forum, which hands over grocery hampers to the families of those deployed, and raises funds.
This year’s sponsors were from Sanlam, Old Mutual, the SA Army Foundation, Liberty, AVBOB, ASSUPOL, Metropolitan, Maxi Credit Solutions, Novare, Clinix, SA Military Health Services Fund, MFS and SAAB.