“Disgusting” Moz body burning video prompts calls for urgent investigation and action

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Two political parties and the country’s largest military trade union want speedy action following possible involvement of South African soldiers in what appears to be the gruesome burning of bodies in Mozambique.

At the same time a retired SA Army officer offers another view on the video, pointing out it could have been done for health reasons.

Both the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Freedom Front Plus (FF+) condemn the incident, which apparently took place in November following an attack on an ASWJ (Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah) base near Nkomga Nangade that left 30 insurgents dead.

DA shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais said the video was “disgusting” pointing out “at least one of the soldiers is identifiable as South African”.

He wants Minister Thandi Modise and General Rudzani Maphwanya, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, to institute “an immediate inquiry”. At the same time the soldiers involved – if and when identified – and their commanding officer should be recalled to South Africa and suspended to “allow for an unrestricted investigation”. He further wants Modise to “fully brief” at least one of Parliament’s two defence oversight committees with information pertaining to the identity of the burnt bodies – whether civilian or combatants – and who gave the order for the summary burning with no respect for the dead shown.

Like Marais, FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald wants Cyril Ramaphosa’s defence and military veterans minister called to account.

He terms the body burning a possible war crime and supports his Parliamentary colleague on the identification of at least one South African soldier in the video. Groenewald further wants Modise to ascertain why the November 2022 incident only came to light now “after wide distribution on social media”.

South Africa’s largest military trade union Sandu (SA National Defence Union) condemned the possible involvement of South African soldiers in what its national secretary Pikkie Greeff called “the desecration of corpses”.

“Desecration and mistreatment of corpses is strictly prohibited and is a serious violation of the international law of armed conflict to which South Africa is a signatory.

“Should the video be authentic and depict, among others, SANDF members engaging in such activities, it would constitute a grave and disgraceful breach of the international law of armed conflict and is completely unacceptable.

“SANDU strongly condemns these actions as they are wholly inconsistent with the values and principles of the SANDF and Sandu, as well as with international law of armed conflict,” Greeff said adding it is “imperative” the incident be properly investigated and those responsible held accountable.

Retired SA Army officer David Peddle, a regular contributor to defenceWeb comments, has it the operation that seemingly led to bodies being burnt was conducted under the auspices of FADM (Forças Armadas de Defesa de Mozambique) the southern African country’s defence force, and “no doubt MozPol [the Mozambican police] who conducted their own forensic investigations of the dead ISIS terrorists.”

He further remarks: “Given the total lack of burial facilities, never mind anything else in the area, burning the bodies was the easiest way to contain both smell and disease potential in a climate where temperatures easily top 35°.  The video does not in any way prove the SANDF soldiers present did anything illegal”.

South Africa’s laws of armed conflict state war graves or remains should be respected, maintained and marked.

Darren Olivier, African Defence Review (ADR) director said the South African soldier does not appear to be taking an active part, but still had an obligation in terms of both the laws of armed conflict and the SANDF’s LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) manuals, doctrine and orders to prevent the bodies being treated that way. “It’s a serious issue.”

John Stupart – also an ADR director –  believes “if the troops involved thought this was good policing up after the battle, then there has been a failure in leadership to train them otherwise. Intentional or not, this is simply not the way to follow the laws of war.”