Rooivalk attack helicopters, Gripen fighter jets and extra troops were sent to countries neighbouring the Central African Republic (CAR) earlier this year, apparently to assist South Africa’s withdrawal from the CAR following a rebel advance.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Friday said that extra troops were sent to the region following the battle that resulted in the overthrow of the CAR’s president Francois Bozize. She said the soldiers were part of a 400 strong contingent earlier approved to be deployed to the CAR.
“We had just been attacked in Bangui, we were assessing the situation to determine whether we remain or evacuate, and of course as you do this assessment you need to position yourself such that if there is a need to evacuate, you can evacuate as quickly as possible — which is what we did,” she said.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party’s shadow defence minister David Maynier said that after the Battle in Bangui during March 22-24, during which 13 South African soldiers were killed, reinforcements were sent to neighbouring countries, including four Gripens and Rooivalk attack helicopters.
Maynier said he had “clear evidence” that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had been deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “The evidence included pictures of a Rooivalk helicopter in front of the air traffic control tower at the Gemena airport in the DRC. This deployment of the SANDF to Gemena in the DRC was in support of operations in the CAR,” Maynier said.
Four Gripens were seen at Ndola airport in northern Zambia in early April, flying out of the Democratic Republic of Congo on their way back to South Africa, and carrying offensive weapons. The movement of Rooivalk and Gripen aircraft to the CAR region is believed to be the first time these assets have been deployed outside South Africa’s borders for potential combat operations.
Maynier said that Parliament was not informed about the deployment, even though President Jacob Zuma is constitutionally obliged to do so, within a reasonable timeframe. “We will therefore be considering submitting a substantive motion calling for Parliament to investigate whether President Zuma misled Parliament about the deployment of the SANDF in the CAR,” he said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said that there were no plans to send more troops to the CAR, although South Africa would consider it if supported by entities like the United Nations or African Union.