A female South African National Defence Force (SANDF) commander taking part in the withdrawal of equipment from the peacekeeping mission in Sudan has led an engagement with local militia.
The SANDF deployed a battalion of soldiers (comprising some eight hundred troops) to the UNAMID mission in Darfur under Operation Cordite) between January 2008 and April 2016.
After the withdrawal of the SANDF contingent from Sudan, two platoons were left to safeguard the equipment and assets awaiting return to the SANDF.
A Platoon under command of Lt Pulane Sekgapane was tasked to provide a reaction force in search of two stolen Land Cruisers belonging to the World Food Programme. These were stolen by unidentified men pretending to be going out to the UNAMID helipad. On 22 November 2018 the force went out on patrol to DamratBorSaed village approximately 5 km from the SANDF’s Kutum base in Darfur, with no reinforcements, to locate the stolen vehicles. GPS co-ordinates were received from a South African Intelligence Officer who directed the patrolling force to south west of Naro village, 20 km from Kutum, where the two stolen vehicles were spotted.
Two platoons were deployed tactically to infiltrate the area. First platoon engaged in a battle with Arab militia, who were heavily armed with 12.7 mm Dushka machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles. Sekgapane ordered her platoon to maintain an effective rate of fire till the opposing force was overpowered.
The engagement lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes until the militia fled to higher ground, where their commander waived a flag as a sign of surrender.
“Leading soldiers as a female commander in the battlefield has its own challenges as this is a profession dominated by men and my decisions and commands are likely to be doubted. As such I always have to put in extra effort in comparison to my male counterparts,” Sekgapane said.
“The first and utmost function and necessity is to win the minds and confidence of the men and women under my command as well as giving them the necessary courage to march by my side on the battlespace. I have learned that with the necessary support from my superiors and counterparts, and necessary cooperation from my subordinates, I can successfully accomplish the desired objectives in any military operation.”
Women are playing a growing role in peacekeeping operations, assisted by the United Nations Security Council adopting four specific Resolutions, (1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889) on women’s participation in peace and security missions.