A Freedom Front Plus (FF+) National Council of Provinces (NCOP) representative could well have opened a door, in legal punishment terms, if Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise’s response to a question concerning soldiers apparently involved in sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) becomes reality.
Fanie du Toit, as per a party statement, asked her to elaborate on the possibility of 12 South African soldiers – nine enlisted and three officers – repatriated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) if found guilty paying all costs of the investigation. He is of the opinion any action taken against the uniformed personnel – if found guilty – should go beyond “mere disciplinary steps” with payment coming from their pensions.
“The Minister said she concurs that decisive action should be taken to protect South Africa’s image in international eyes. The accused may even face ordinary criminal prosecution seeing as the military system is often ‘slow’ to act in cases of sexual offences, according to the Minister,” the FF+ statement reads adding “an infinite backlog” of unsettled military cases relating to sexual offences means “justice is not done”.
Settling the cost of the investigation, again if a guilty verdict is handed down, should include the travelling costs of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) legal investigating team to and from DRC and the flight and other costs incurred by the soldier suspects.
Du Toit maintains there “will certainly be civil prosecution if it appears military courts are dragging their feet”. He is optimistic the cost recovery suggestion will be implemented.
Eight South African soldiers were arrested in DRC on 1 October in connection with SEA offences. They were, according to the UN, going to be immediately sent to South Africa but this was delayed, for reasons not made public, until Friday, 27 October.
There was, at the time of publication, no word from the communications personnel of either the South African Department of Defence (DoD) or the SANDF on the repatriated soldiers and what charges they could face as well as their present status.
Modise, answering oral questions in the National Assembly last week, said the victims of SEA are not being ignored and South Africa was one of the first countries to dock soldiers’ pay to support the children fathered during deployments.
While Modise still awaits all the facts from the latest incident in the DRC, she maintains strong action will be taken if the soldiers are found guilty. “We will not protect anyone who slanders the name of South Africa, because if we do, it will continue to happen.”
She added that if the military justice system fails, “we will go out into the open courts.” The implicated soldiers, if found guilty, could be sanctioned or dismissed from the SANDF. “They will be charged as they have done something wrong, whether it’s breaking curfew or SEA,” she said.