“Insults” don’t deserve comment – DoD Head of Communication

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The senior communicator at the South African Department of Defence (DoD), Siphiwe Dlamini, told defenceWeb he does not respond to “insults”.

This was in reaction to a hard-hitting Daily Maverick editorial in the wake of a media conference last week where SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, made public the official line on supposed death squads in the national military.

The Daily Maverick editorial, titled “All optics on the SANDF”, reads: “When General Rudzani Maphwanya called a media briefing on Thursday [7 December] to address Open Secrets’ damning multi-part investigation into the torture and assassination squad operating within the SANDF, you would think things would be as serious as humanly possible”.

“But attending journalists were treated to what many covering defence affairs for years knew already: military communications is to communications what military music is to music: a horrid, amateurish attempt at doing the real thing.

“Rather than taking the investigations seriously, Maphwanya and his coterie of assembled epaulettes opted to rather blame Open Secrets and vaguely accused them of defeating the ends of justice.

“Government blaming journalists for its own iniquity is nothing new in South Africa, but the victim mindset is certainly a little more disarming when coming from the nation’s military.

“A reminder: we are talking about accusations of a SANDF group of possible Special Forces operators working inside South Africa, torturing and killing fellow nationals. The list of criminal offences here, if true, should not begin and end with the journalists blowing the story wide open.

“But Maphwanya’s briefing, which effectively amounted to an in-person press release, showcased the SANDF’s longstanding inability to understand what the media’s role is, nor what its relationship with the military should be.

“Amid grins and poorly aimed jokes, the SANDF’s top leadership used the briefing to riff about its chronic underfunding, divert around allegations of South African soldiers burning the corpses of Mozambican insurgents (all while grinning on camera) and just generally making light of several problems that are far from a laughing matter.

“A four-star general in the SANDF earns over a million rand a year, excluding a host of benefits. And yet, the SANDF’s top leadership appear to have the corporate communications equivalent of interns running the show. Let that sink in for a minute…”

Dlamini in a statement last week said the SANDF views the “alarming allegations about the existence of the so called ‘SANDF death squad’” in “the most serious light,” as they have the potential to damage the image and reputation of the SANDF.

He said one would expect those who have such information together with their sources to report such crime to law enforcement authorities.

Addressing allegations of torture by SANDF members in attempts to recover assault rifles and pistols that were stolen in December 2019, Dlamini stated that the Hawks and SANDF have issued statements on the theft and journalists were welcome to attend court proceedings.

“On the matter of allegations on the abduction of an individual linked to the Mall of Africa, a media statement was issued on 16 September 2023, in response to the media enquiry stating clearly that the matter is being co-ordinated by the joint entities, the Hawks and Military Police together with the NPA. The matter is under investigation and before a court of law and the SANDF cannot comment on the matter,” Dlamini continued.

He added “it is rather concerning that even with all that has been presented to the public by the said media houses and that there still exists no formal charge(s) opened against any of the mentioned persons and/or organisation(s).

“The law states in South Africa that failure to report a crime is an offence. It is also concerning that the media houses chose to withhold the information that can assist law enforcement agencies to investigate and incongruously decided to publish it for whatever reason.

“This can be equated to a reprehensible motive or an act of defeating the ends of justice. We can state clearly without any ambiguity that the defence force operates in a constitutional and democratic state where all government institutions operate and adheres to democratic principles of the state.

“Therefore, like any other government department, the defence force can be scrutinised for anything that might seem to be going against the constitution and the Bill of Rights and that must be done within the framework of openness and transparency. For the record, there are no military squads in the defence force that exist to carry out acts of torture and murder for whatever reasons,” Dlamini concluded.