Lohatla fire dead named as Gift of the Givers assists

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All six soldiers who died in a devastating veld fire at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) were non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

These “departed warriors”, as per an SA Army statement, and are named as Staff Sergeant Abraham Desember Morajane, Staff Sergeant Sipho Berrington Cele, Corporal Sithembiso Wiseman Ndwalane, Corporal Noxolo Faith Ngubane, Lance Corporal Prince Michael Mthethwa and Lance Corporal Londiwe Purity Zulu.

The statement, issued by Major General Rene Mercuur, Chief SA Army Corporate Services, has it three other soldiers sustained second degree burns with “others sustaining minor injuries”. It gives no unit affiliation for the dead or injured soldiers and no update on the condition of those injured.

At the weekend, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), added his name to the list of those expressing condolences and sympathies to families, friends and colleagues of the dead. He also, through Presidency spokesman Vincent Magwenya, wished soldiers injured in the blaze “a speedy and comfortable recovery”.

The Presidential statement notes the fire struck the landward force’s premier training facility started in Kathu, 56 km from Lohatla. Mercuur said safetly precautions were in place, but the fire changed direction and was moving quickly, driven by wind gusts of up to 70 km/h.

Local non-governmental organisation Gift of the Givers is providing aid to around 1 300 soldiers in the wake of the fire.

“The SANDF made an urgent request for clothing including underwear, hygiene packs, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, face cloths, hand towels, sanitary pads, energy drinks and blankets. Gift of the Givers teams are loading our truck in Johannesburg with the items requested whilst team members are sourcing additional supplies from wholesalers this morning before embarking on the seven-hour journey,” said Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman on Sunday.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the family members and the SANDF on this tragic loss. Remove the uniforms and they are just ordinary human beings with loved ones depending on them for a livelihood and a stable family,” said Sooliman.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier clarified that the Gift of the Givers’ donation is for the personal belongings of the soldiers, not for their military-issued clothing or gear or for other military equipment. “For the SANDF to purchase this stuff would take much longer because of procurement rules and procedures, so this is a nice gesture,” he stated.

Department of Defence Head of Communication Siphiwe Dlamini said the SANDF deeply appreciates the material support offered by the Gift of the Givers, along with the compassion expressed by members of the public.

“We wish to reassure all concerned South Africans that in spite of our dire financial circumstances, the SANDF works hard to adhere to our military doctrine pertaining overall logistics support to our troops with respect to our deployments,” Dlamini said in a statement on Monday morning.

“We respectfully want to correct reports that the South African [National] Defence Force has asked for assistance in this regard. We have not approached or requested anyone, individuals or corporate for material support. Furthermore, the SANDF is not only concerned about bringing relief to its members only, we are equally concerned about the plight of neighbouring communities at the Lohatla military base which were victims of this killer veld fire.

“The SANDF will not hesitate to empty its stores to bring relief to the affected communities and not to SANDF members only. Even under this tragic loss of life, our constitutional responsibility to guarantee the safety of South Africans remains our priority,” Dlamini concluded.