The city of Grahamstown has welcomed back the soldiers of 6 South African Infantry Battalion (6 SAI) after they were deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a year.
Grahamstown, home to 6 SAI, hosted a welcoming parade on 28 August during which they exercised their status as holder of Freedom of the City.
The 850 troops were part of the United Nations (UN) Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) authorised to use lethal force to achieve peace in the DRC. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said their involvement in the FIB saw them defeat the M23 rebel group during the Battle of Kibati and other skirmishes in the strife torn country.
“This unit has made South Africa proud and fought the rebel elements pound to pound to the delight of their African counterparts who fought alongside them in the mission. Our men and women who took part in the afore-mentioned operation helped shape the history of our country’s peace missions on the continent and this offers an opportunity to the media to help tell the story of South Africa as it evolves as a constitutional democracy helping in the maintenance of peace and security in Africa,” the SANDF said in a statement.
Grahamstown’s Executive Mayor Zamuxolo Peter praised the soldiers of 6SAI Battalion. “As Makana and the citizens of Grahamstown, we are delighted to welcome home the brave soldiers who went on a peacekeeping mission [to the] DRC. We honour the soldiers who risked their lives. They deserve medals for bravery,” Grocott’s Mail quoted Peter as saying.
Lieutenant Colonel Altin Gysman, the commander of 6 SAI told Grocott’s Mail that the 850 South African troops formed some of the 3 200 personnel belonging to the FIB. In addition to 6 SAI, Gysman said a “very efficient” reconnaissance platoon was deployed from Phalaborwa.
Tanzanian, Malawian and South African forces with the FIB were supported by South African Air Force Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters with the UN aviation detachment. Gysman said the Rooivalk’s maiden combat deployment in the DRC was very successful and together with Tanzanian artillery was instrumental in defeating the M23.
6 SAI began pre-deployment training in Grahamstown early last year with Colonel William Dixon, who had been force commander in the Central African Public. Gysman told Grocott’s that lessons learnt in the CAR were taught to his troops.
The first group moved into the DRC on 28 April 2013 and the rest following from 15 June, with all 850 South African troops ready for action on 18 June. From this time onwards, Gysman said his troops encountered M23 forces while supporting DRC government troops. “We were involved in numerous battles starting with the battle of Kibati in August 2013 and then also going in to the final destruction of the M23,” in November.
Only a few South African soldiers were injured, by shrapnel, and all were brought back safely in May this year. “I commend my troops for their bravery, their loyalty, their comradeship, their patriotism and also their diligence to make sure that the DRC became a safe country for the people to be freed from armed groups specifically in the north Kivu area of responsibility,” Gysman said.
Troops from 5 South African Infantry battalion have replaced those of 6 SAI in the DRC as the FIB’s mandate has been extended and it is combating other rebel groups in the DRC. Although 6 SAI is back home, it is not idle and has deployed some troops on border safeguarding missions.
Photo: Jeffrey Stretton-Bell/Grocott’s Mail.