The first South African soldier to die a combat death in the current regional offensive against Islamist insurgents in Mozambique – while tragic – brought a veiled warning a lack of suitable assets could well be regretted by those charged with planning the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM).
The observation by Sandu (SA National Defence Union) general secretary Pikkie Greeff accompanied condolences for family and friends of Corporal Tebogo Radebe. At the same time Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, raised concerns about the combat death.
The 31-year-old specialist was part of the SA Army’s elite Special Forces. He died in a firefight with insurgents during an ambush near Chai village in Cabo Delgado on 20 December and his body is due to be received with full military honours today (Thursday, 23 December) at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof in Centurion.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise will lead a group of top defence representatives – civilian and uniformed – meeting the aircraft carrying Radebe’s body. SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Rudzani Maphwanya will also be on the apron at the Centurion base.
Greeff pointed out Radebe’s death was a stark reminder South Africa was involved in a war in Mozambique.
“This is as real as it gets for any soldier. Our soldiers go into combat knowing lives are at stake, they choose to do this for the greater good and for peace and stability in the sub-continent,” he said adding, “The deployment continues without any air combat support, such as attack helicopters or fighter aircraft. This is regrettable as it is potentially a game changer in this operation”.
Marais said it is “always sad when a soldier is lost in a deployment” adding SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the SA government “must take full responsibility for Radebe’s death”.
“It is a war against ISIL in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado. SADC must either accept and properly prepare and support troops deployed or get our soldiers out of war zones,” he said pointing out the DA previously warned “against a half-baked military commitment where SADC funding has not been confirmed”.
Marais supported Greeff’s call for more military assets to be deployed and utilised in the effort to remove ASWJ (Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah).
“Rooivalk helicopters and Gripen fighter jets should have been on standby to provide air support,” he said.
An unknown number of Mozambican soldiers are believed killed and/or wounded during the Chai village attack, which comes during an increase in insurgent activity in Cabo Delgado. Mozambique defence minister Cristovao Chume said Mozambican and SAMIM soldiers stormed a rebel base and killed ten insurgents in Cabo Delgado on 19 December without specifying an exact location.
There was, at the time of publishing, no confirmation from the Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SANDF that Radebe was a Special Forces soldier or that other South African soldiers were wounded in the Chai village firefight. If confirmed, Radebe would be the first South African Special Forces soldier killed in action since Corporal H Carstens in the Border War in April 1989.
As far as is known, according to a presidential missive from Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s military commitment to the regional bloc mission is up to 1 495 military personnel. This as per a letter tabled at a Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting in mid-October. No details of musterings such as infantry, Special Forces or military medics were given. South Africa’s initial contribution to SAMIM was reported as being only Special Forces for reconnaissance purposes.