The 15 South African soldiers killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) during what has become known as the Battle for Bangui in 2013 are to be honoured with a memorial in the landlocked central African country.
This was announced by CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera in Pretoria this week following a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma.
“There are soldiers who shed their blood in the country. This gesture will help us to strengthen peace and solidarity between the two countries,” Touadera is reported as saying by News24. He also thanked the South African president and the South African people for supporting the CAR during its crisis.
South African soldiers, military analyst Helmoed Heitman said in a publication after the March 2013 high-intensity battle in the streets of the capital Bangui, “an out-numbered contingent, performed bravely in the hours-long firefight they found themselves in”. He also points out a number of hard lessons learnt during the events that saw the overthrow of CAR President Francois Bozize by the Seleka rebel alliance. Some of these include the poor intelligence picture, a force that was far too light for a sustained combat role and the lack of air support and airlift.
Other points made by the Pretoria-based analyst include: “Do not blame the soldiers and junior leaders: they are doing their best and their best is often quite outstanding. The fighting around Bangui was a particular demonstration of that. Do not blame the generals for deploying small or under-armed forces: they can only ‘do the best with what they have’ as a former chief of the Defence Force used to say in another time. And ‘what they have’ in terms of the number of soldiers, the type of equipment and the support capabilities is simply inadequate for the role that South Africa’s government wishes to play.
“If there is blame it must go to the politicians who starve the Defence Force financially and then expect it to work miracles.
“Soldiers of all countries do that all the time, but sooner or later they are expected to do the impossible, and that will take a little longer or prove rather more costly than expected. South Africa must decide whether it is going to undertake regional missions or not. If we are going to do that, we must provide our troops with the equipment needed for such operations, which must as a matter of urgency include transport aircraft to fly in light armoured vehicles and Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters, and tanker aircraft to enable the Gripen and Hawk to be deployed quickly if necessary.”
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed on a February 2007 defence co-operation agreement providing for “co-operation on peace and stability and the training and capacity building of military personnel through the exchange of trainees, instructors and observers”.
This, some have it, unexpectedly escalated into high-intensity violence with the South African contingent in the middle of it.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is reported as saying the memorial would give a sense of comfort to the families of the South African soldiers who died in Bangui.
An official communique issued by the Presidency at the conclusion of the bilateral meeting makes no mention of the memorial. It covers political developments in CAR, the “urgent need for armed groups to lay down arms” and the establishment of a joint commission for co-operation.