Op Vikela is over, SA troops flown back from Mozambique

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South Africa’s contribution to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) is over as per a Presidential authorisation stating it ends today (15 April).

Ahead of the end date, SAMIM Public Information Operations Officer Captain Tshepiso Mantjane last week reported on a 7 April farewell parade for the South Africans – one of eight SADC countries providing equipment and troops to the mission in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.

The first contingent to withdraw was Botswana with the now remaining six – Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia – set to exit the east African country by July. That will leave only a contingent from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), known as the Rwanda Security Force (RSF), in Mozambique assisting the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM – Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique) in ongoing efforts to curb attacks by ASWJ (Ansar al-Sunna Wa Jamma) also known as ISIS-M.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment in support of the regional bloc mission went by the code name Operation Vikela. It saw up to 1 495 personnel, the majority from units in the SA Army Infantry Formation, supported by engineering and logistics personnel as well as SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), on active duty at any one time for the three-year lifespan of the deployment.

Ahead of boarding an aircraft bound for South Africa last week, SAMIM Acting Head J Shikongo Shikongo bid the South African soldiers farewell “at the end of a distinguished tour of duty” where dedication, professionalism and courage was shown in support of Mozambican security forces.

As the remaining SADC troop contributing countries (TCCs) move into exit mode the RDF is increasing community policing and civil/military co-operation in Cabo Delgado. This follows reports of Rwanda adding more boots on the ground to its Mozambican commitment. News24 reported RDF International Co-operation Head, Brigadier General Patrick Karuretwa as saying Rwanda would increase the number of its soldiers and make them “more mobile so they can cover larger areas”. The Rwandans will, he said, train Mozambican soldiers “to occupy the places where SAMIM used to be stationed”.

The sole indication to date for wrapping up of the regional bloc mission and force in Mozambique came from the country’s foreign minister who said in late March SAMIM would depart in July due to a lack of funds.

Speaking after a meeting between Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and his Zambian counterpart Hakainde Hichilema, current SADC body on Co-operation in Politics, Defence and Security chair, Veronica Macamo said the regional bloc was “facing some financial problems”.

“We also have to take care of our own troops and we would have difficulty paying for SAMIM”, she was reported by local media in the Zambian capital Lusaka as saying.