CAR deployment was “not only a South African decision” – Defence Minister


The ill-fated South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment to the Central African Republic (CAR) to ostensibly protect South African military trainers and equipment was not solely a South African decision.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the National Assembly yesterday that the 200 crack soldiers sent to the CAR’s capital of Bangui was not a result of South Africa “deciding on its own to go into the CAR”.

She said South Africa signed a defence co-operation memorandum of understanding with the CAR in 2007. “This followed decisions of the AU Peace and Stability council for its member states ‘in the name of African solidarity’ to assist with post conflict recovery of that country”.

The deteriorating security situation in the CAR earlier this year resulted in a government assessment to send an additional 200 troops as a protection force for the SANDF trainers and military assets already there.
“This was important because a contingent of unarmed SANDF trainers and South African government assets were in the CAR. It was also important to ensure South African military assets in the CAR did not fall into the wrong hands,” she told MPs.

Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa’s involvement in the CAR “just as was the case in Burundi, the DRC, Sudan and elsewhere, has been in pursuance of our international obligation to ensure stability and peace on the continent.

“Our foreign policy is fundamentally based and designed for the furtherance of South Africa’s national and strategic interest. Our foreign policy objectives are based on the need to build a better Africa and a better world and recognise the future development of our own country is linked, first and foremost, to that of the African continent.
“A key principle informing our foreign policy is the ‘diplomacy of Ubuntu’, reflect in the idea that we affirm our humanity when we affirm the humanity of others,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The Minister’s words were not at all satisfactory to David Maynier, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, who has been and still is pushing for a full-scale Parliamentary enquiry into the CAR deployment.

He seized on the Ubuntu part of her speech to ask why ousted CAR president Francois Bozize, “a dubious character and unlikely convert” to this concept, became “South Africa’s most important ‘client’ in the region”.

Soldiers left dangling
“We need to know the real reason the SANDF was deployed in the CAR. And we need to know how it was we were drawn into a battle we could not supply, without the right equipment, despite desperate requests for armoured personnel carriers, light aircraft and transport and attack helicopters.
“The fact is our soldiers were left dangling, with both hands tied behind their backs, in a deadly firefight which led to the loss of 13 lives in the CAR.”

Mapisa-Nqakula is on record as saying prior to her National Assembly address and last week’s meeting of the Joint Standing committee on Defence that the SANDF did not go to the CAR expecting a battle.

She also took opposition parties and the media to task for the negative slant put on both the deployment and what has become known as the Battle for Bangui.
“Not once have reports about this mission ever emphasised the heroism of our soldiers, selecting to deliberately project an image of a defeated force without giving recognition to the valour of the 200 SANDF troops who fought for nine hours against a group of 3 000, repelling the threat, killing over 700 and suffering minimal casualties.
“Failure to report the genesis of our deployment to the CAR is complicit on the part of the media. To ignore all recorded facts about the AU Peace and Stability decisions about the CAR before South Africa’s involvement, choosing simply to project the coffee-table talk of the opposition, is collusion of the highest order in a sinister plot to undermine our policy.
“Assuming the allegations by the opposition are true, that will mean the South African government, the AU and the UN went into the CAR under the guise of helping the recovery of a country ‘that was not really experiencing effects of decades of civil wars’, to support a peace deal ‘that was never signed’; to ensure the stability of a Great Lakes region ‘whose fragile peace was never at risk’ and protect the rights of the vulnerable citizens who ‘were never living with the threat of fear, hunger and violence’,” she said.

The issue of selective reporting, coupled with what the country’s largest military trade union Sandu (SA National Defence Union) calls a witch hunt to find those who leaked information about the CAR and other continental deployments, does not bode well for the SANDF as far as the nation’s trust is concerned, a retired SA Army officer said.
“Looking back at how the media was hounded by government in 1998 for publishing photographs of dead ‘own forces’ following Operation Boleas, this smacks of similar tactics,” the brigadier, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

Operation Boleas was the first deployment of SANDF troops into a foreign country (Lesotho), supported by the Botswana Defence Force, to quell an uprising in the landlocked mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa. Eight South African soldiers were killed and 17 wounded in that mission while the Lesotho forces lost 29 soldiers with another 51 wounded. General Solly Shoke, currently SANDF Chief, was overall commander of that SADC mission with Colonel Robbie Hartslief commander of the South African contingent.

Other factors not currently endearing the SANDF and its political masters to the general South African public include “a misguided culture of secrecy and awful public relations,” according to military aviation observer and writer Darren Olivier. The CAR fall-out is yet another example of this, the retired brigadier said.

The absence of President Jacob Zuma, SANDF Commander-in-Chief, was also a point of concern for Freedom Front Plus (FF+) party defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald. He said, in terms of the Constitution, Zuma should have been present in the National assembly to explain the CAR deployment.
“It is insensitive that he is not in the House,” Groenewald said.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told News 24 that Zuma was not an MP and did not attend all meetings of the National Assembly.