SA Army division-level exercise not affected by Lohatla fire

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Deaths and damage in the wake of Friday’s runaway fire at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) in the Northern Cape Province will not affect the landward force’s scheduled division-level exercise – Vuk’uhlome – in November.

The reassurance was published by a military corporate communication officer in the wake of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, making the effort to see for himself the damage caused at the almost 160 000 hectare Lohatla training  area.

After certain recommendations and decisions presented by the command group, it was decided that the exercise will continue and all prime mission equipment (PME) and personnel equipment that was lost in the fire will be replaced to allow continuation of the exercise, according to Major Melchizedek Mjoli.

“This incident must not deter us in any way, however it must prepare us to finish this exercise and remain ready for any deployment,” the SANDF said.

Maphwanya is reported as telling soldiers and SANDF personnel from other services and formations they should remain soldiers even in the midst of the dark cloud that has befallen them. He reminded those at CTC they should not be blinded by the tears in their eyes and must continue to honour those that have lost their lives and those in hospital.

The past three weeks saw the national defence force lose 13 personnel – six soldiers from as yet unnamed units in Friday’s fire and prior to that four 8 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion soldiers died in a two-Samil truck crash incident outside Upington en route to Lohatla. The deaths of the infantry soldiers happened the same day three SA Navy (SAN) submariners died in a training evolution with a Super Lynx maritime helicopter off Kommetjie in the Western Cape province.

The loss of the submariners saw condolences from the Department of Defence (DoD) and SANDF senior management as well as SANDF Commander-in-Chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa. The condolence lists for the other SANDF deaths has the defence and military veterans minister (Thandi Modise), her deputy (Thabang Makwetla), Acting Secretary for Defence (Thobile Gamede), Maphwanya and the affected service chiefs – Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha (SA Army) and Vice Admiral Monde Lobese (SAN) – on them.

Condolences also came from Sandu (SA National Defence Union) and, for the submariners, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais. Another who responded was DA public representative Willie Aucamp as the party’s Kalahari constituency head. He noted the fire was “believed” to originate near Kathu and was then spread to the CTC by strong winds.

The SAN responded speedily in the wake of the SAS Manthatisi (S101) loss of life announcing a board of inquiry (BOI). At the time of publishing the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) had not responded to a defenceWeb inquiry regarding a BOI for the Upington Samil crash, nor given any update on those injured.

Further information on the Lohatla fire will, a statement attributed to Major General Rene Mercuur, SA Army Chief Director Corporate Services, follow once a thorough assessment is completed. The statement, dated Saturday, 7 October, has it the fire investigation is “still underway”.