“No build-up of troops or material” – SANDF

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The SANDF is currently not involved in any build-up of troops or military equipment outside the country.

This flat denial was given to defenceWeb today by SANDF director: corporate communications Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga.

It follows a report in the Afrikaans daily Beeld detailing numerous aircraft movements out of AFB Waterkloof by chartered IL-76 and AN-124 airlifters. In addition to moving troops and equipment, apparently to Entebbe in Uganda, the SAAF has also deployed Gripen and Hawk fighters in what the newspaper termed was “a build-up of SANDF forces in anticipation of a possible incursion into the Central African Republic (CAR)”.

The paper also reported possible movement out of the country of Rooivalk combat support helicopters and Oryx medium transport rotorcraft.
“There is no build-up of SANDF troops or equipment underway,” Mabanga said adding the high number of aircraft movements from the Centurion air force base over the past few days was “part of routine maintenance and support for other SANDF deployments on continental peacekeeping and peace support missions”.

The denial comes at the same time as President Zuma is in Chad to hold discussions on the CAR situation with the 10 nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). He was invited to attend by Chadian President Idriss Deby, who chairs ECCAS.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said before Zuma’s departure there was “nothing unusual” in the South African Head of State, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, attending the ECCAS meeting.
“We want to participate and benefit from the knowledge of colleagues in the region and share ideas,” he said.

Three Ministers – Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (International Relations and Co-operation), Siyabonga Cwele (State Security) and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (Defence and Military Veterans) – are accompanying Zuma.

Reports from other sources indicate South African troops and equipment have also been moved to Gemena in the DRC, about 180km from the CAR capital Bangui. They are said to be joining up with other SANDF soldiers who have retreated to the DRC and even moving to Uganda. There are apparently only a handful of South African troops left in Bangui looking after South African assets there.

Mounting criticism has come government’s way over the CAR deployment and its consequences with some commentators wanting to know exactly what the SANDF was doing in the troubled country.

Questions have and are, being asked about its legality, in view of President Francois Bozize’s overthrow and subsequent seeking of asylum in the DRC, as well as whether the South Africans were in fact protecting military or commercial assets there.

The latest round of questions comes from SA Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS) researcher Glenn Ashton. He said the presence of South African was “less nuanced” than, for example, France, which has a lengthy list of active interventions, the latest in Mali.
“It (the South African deployment) could also be termed neo-colonial, although with far less diplomatic finesse. It did not carry a comprehensive AU, let alone UN mandate.
“The intervention was badly managed, improperly considered and appears ill-fated. It can be argued the role of SANDF troops in CAR indicates a dangerous shift by South Africa towards supporting illegitimate regimes in order to protect economic interests with strong links to powerful domestic political networks. The presence may have been legal but was it morally defensible?
“It is of further concern that South Africa, with its erstwhile moral cachet, has so badly abused its self-appointed role as a regional superpower. This is especially so given its inability to decisively project this power militarily. While South Africa has leveraged its powerful economy throughout the region, projecting itself as an economic gateway into Africa, it lacks the military logistical reach and clout to underpin its bold economic projection.
“The South African troops in CAR may have prevailed against a ragtag force of children and irregulars – as they should have. The 1st Parachute Battalion is an elite unit after all. But even so, besides the unprecedented losses, South Africa has, through lack of proper planning and diplomatic foresight, managed to self-inflict a serious diplomatic bloody nose on the face it projects to the world at large.
“Not only were there indications of serious intelligence failures on the ground, but there was no logistic backup for this isolated force, which allegedly subsisted on ration packs and little more.
“Against this background, the mixed messaging from South African political leadership regarding the role of the armed forces in CAR has served only to further muddy the water.
“Instead of explaining the presence of the SANDF in an unstable political landscape, an unconvincing case was made that these paratroopers were training CAR regular army forces. Other credible reports indicate the SANDF was protecting South African commercial interests in the country,” Ashton said.

He added any suggestion to increase troop numbers appeared ill-considered, given the poor logistics, long supply lines and expense. Further military setbacks would highlight not only a failure of leadership but of poor perception management around diplomatic and foreign relations.
“There is a serious potential for blowback from this military misadventure. While the South Africans may have prevailed in the encounter, they are at risk of losing the war on the public relations front, despite political leadership trying its best to turn a tragedy into a nationalistic, gung-ho victory.
“There is also a real risk that South African projection of power into the region will be harmed by its injudicious bilateral relationship with ousted CAR leader Bozize, who appears to have favoured South African economic interests because of associated political and military support. South Africa simply cannot afford to squander moral capital on relationships with illegitimate leaders of resource-rich states in return for economic favours for its political elite,” he said.



Ashton wants to see “far more nuanced, mature and diplomatic political leadership” if South Africa is to become a respected participant in African and broader international affairs.
“It is especially important South Africa should only engage in military actions under multilateral regional agreements, be they UN or AU led, and never again under questionable bilateral pacts with leaders of dubious democratic pedigree.
“Finally, any attempt to project economic power through the projection of military power or adventurism is utterly inadvisable,” according to the SACSIS researcher.