The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) will this month visit members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they will discuss a number of issues, including the future of the Rooivalk attack helicopter with the mission and possible troop cuts.
The committee will visit South African troops deployed with the United Nations’ Monusco mission Goma in the DRC between 25 and 29 March, according to the minutes of the JSCD’s meeting on 2 March when the SANDF and Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) spoke about SANDF involvement in international peacekeeping operations.
One of the matters discussed was the fact that Monusco’s mandate will be expiring at the end of March and although the UN Security Council is discussing renewing it, uncertainties remain over its mandate and future, especially with elections coming up. The committee heard there is concern over the UN’s proposed cuts to the Monusco budget. This would imply 5 000 troops would be removed from the mission, out of the total of 16 000 deployed at present.
Another area of concern is the future of the Rooivalk attack helicopter in the DRC. Major General Mlandeli Kula, Chief Director: Joint Operation Division SANDF, noted that there are five Oryx transport helicopters and three Rooivalk helicopters in the DRC and that the UN had made a call to withdraw the Rooivalk due to budget concerns and were contemplating using helicopters that are cheaper to operate.
“However, the fact was that these helicopters could not be withdrawn due to their effectiveness and this could not be disputed. There was no replacement for them. They were a vital asset,” he said and added that the UN had written to South Africa to withdraw its Rooivalk but after South African engagement “the Rooivalk would never be withdrawn.” However, the Committees’ oversight visit later this month will confirm whether they should be withdrawn or not.
Kula said after the Tanzanians withdrew their helicopters, troops would be sacrificed if the Rooivalks were withdrawn too.
The South African force in the DRC typically comprises around 1 400 soldiers, vehicles, helicopters and other equipment. 5 SA Infantry Battalion is currently serving with Monusco’s Force Intervention Brigade.
The Joint Operations Division is currently allocated R875 303 327 for its involvement in the DRC, with the UN paying R733 103 693.63 with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of R208 911 027.02. A promise to pay letters had been made. Of the five Oryx helicopters, three are funded by the UN and two are unfunded.