Battle of Bangui was not about business interests – Modise

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It’s taken more than 10 years for South Africa to be officially told the soldiers killed in what has become known as the Battle for Bangui were not deployed to “protect any business interests”.

Current Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise was the bearer of tidings which will, to many, clear confusion about exactly what South African paratroopers were doing in the Central African Republic (CAR) during early 2013. She provided official information regarding the CAR deployment, under her predecessor Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s leadership, in response to a question posed by Kobus Marais, the Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian charged with oversight of Modise’ portfolio.

Thirteen paratroopers were killed when defending a position in the CAR capital Bangui from what, by all accounts, was an overwhelming Seleka rebel force. Two further paratroopers succumbed to wounds after a sustained firefight where the elite South African troops were more than a match for a much larger opposition force. The roughly 200 South African soldiers fought an estimated 3 000 rebels over more than a dozen hours. The rebels eventually came with a white flag and negotiated a ceasefire. Twenty-seven South African soldiers were wounded in the clashes with the rebels who captured the capital Bangui.

In the wake of the battle, questions were raised about why South African soldiers were in the strife-torn country and under whose instruction they were deployed, among others.

Marais specifically asked Modise, as part of a question responded to in writing on 21 April and signed off by her on 2 June: “Whether any truth was established that the soldiers were allegedly deployed to protect the mining and/or other business interests of the Republic [of South Africa]?”

She informed him: “The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed in terms of a bilateral agreement between the governments of South Africa and CAR on defence co-operation”.

The bilateral made provision for South African military training to CAR armed forces (Forces Armées Centrafricaines, also known by the acronym FACA). “Therefore,” Modise wrote, “[the] SANDF was not deployed to protect any business interests”.

The deployment was authorised by then South African president Jacob Zuma and “fulfilled all Constitutional requirements”. It was “duly authorised” by the then South African supremo who, according to Modise “informed both the National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) by means of a Presidential Minute”.

As far as investigating soldier deaths in the Bangui firefight is concerned, Marais was told a board of inquiry (BOI) was convened – date not given – with a recommendation that no one was “responsible/accountable” for the fatalities.