Efforts made by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to eliminate sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) incidents by soldiers deployed on continental peacekeeping and peace support missions have been welcomed by Cabinet.
“Cabinet was satisfied with interventions made in addressing these abuses (apart from SEA incidents the top government body was also briefed on ‘serious misconduct’ of soldiers) against SANDF members supporting the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” a statement issued by GCIS (Government Communication and Information System) after last week’s Cabinet meeting in Cape Town said.
“Cabinet was satisfied with interventions made in addressing these abuses. It condemns in the strongest possible terms any form of sexual abuse and acts of misconduct by SANDF members in mission areas,” the statement said adding a team was deployed by the military to investigate all reported allegations.
“Some cases have been finalised and others are at the stage of military trials. All investigations have been conducted through the military legal process in a transparent and accountable manner.
“South Africa will continue to react swiftly when dealing with such incidents,” the statement said pointing out that “ill-discipline and criminal behaviour in the ranks of the SANDF is despised and will not be tolerated”.
“Those found to have transgressed will be dealt with through the Code of Conduct and Military Disciplinary Code.”
The SANDF last month held a three-day conference dealing specifically with the elimination of SEA from within its ranks.
“The conference was an effort to ensure the Code of Conduct for Uniform members of the SANDF is followed to the letter and that the good conduct prescripts applicable to United Nations and African Union soldiers in operations are also followed to the letter and no member of our military is allowed to put our organisation’s name into disrepute,” the SANDF said at the conclusion of the Thaba Tshwane conference.
“The SANDF applies zero tolerance against exploitation and abuse of locals in our areas of operation. We seek to always safeguard local populations in need of protection and support because of their heightened vulnerability owing to displacements and poverty emanating from conflict and instability in their countries.
“The SANDF is in agreement with UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, Jane Connors, when she said sexual exploitation and abuse ‘is conduct which is abhorrent and is extraordinarily painful to its victims and undermines the UN itself and dents the trust communities should have in the UN’. In our effort to maintain that level of trust between our soldiers and local populations where we are deployed, it is prudent we deal harshly with incidents of this nature whenever they rear their ugly head.”
There are currently 11 SEA allegations under investigation by the SANDF. Some date back to 2014 with four incidents reported this year. According to Brigadier General Mninimzi Sizani, military advisor to the South African Mission to the UN, some of the cases relate paternity issues. He pointed out some of the cases are allegations only and have not been proven yet.