In the aftermath of the weekend’s bloody encounter in the Central African Republic, the soldier reported Missing in Action has been found alive and in “good spirits,” SANDF Director Corporate Communications Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.
At the same time he said the bodies of the 13 paratroopers killed during a lengthy and high intensity firefight were back on South African soil.
The dead, all members of 1 Parachute Battalion based in Bloemfontein, are Corporal Mokgadi Darius Seakamela, Corporal Ntebaleng Andrew Mogorosi, Lance Corporal Daniel Sello Molara, Lance Corporal Lukas Mohapi Tsheke and riflemen Lesego Maxwell Hertzog, Zamani Jim Mxhosana, Xolani Dlamini, Vusimuzi Joseph Ngaleka, Karabo Edwin Matsheka, Khomotso Paul Msenga, Maleisane Samuel Thulo, Motsamai William Bojane and Thabiso Anthon Phirimana.
A receipt of mortal remains ceremony is expected to be held at AFB Waterkloof in Centurion today. According to Mabanga, the families of the dead will decide on either private burials or accord their sons a full military burial.
South African and French soldiers were at Bangui Airport to pay final respects to the fellow comrades in arms when their bodies were loaded onto a SAAF C-130BZ aircraft for the flight back to South Africa.
“It was raining and there was thunder,” one of those in the guard of honour told Afrikaans daily Beeld. “Amazing Grace was played by a lone bagpiper while we loaded the bodies of our comrades.”
It is not clear what will happen to the SANDF deployment, with Commander-in-Chief President Jacob Zuma earlier this week giving extraction a thumbs down. SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke also indicated South African soldiers “do not run away”.
The deployment, ostensibly to assist the CAR military in capacity building and protect SANDF assets in the country, has come under fire from politicians, trade union leaders and military observers and analysts following the lengthy high intensity engagement with a rebel forces estimated at around 3 000 strong.
Many have pointed out the small SANDF deployment, with apparently around 200 South African soldiers directly involved in fighting, was inadequately supported for a contact of the size it encountered.
South African soldiers have received wide praise for holding off a rebel force that massively outnumbered them. At the same time, analysts and military watchers have pointed to a lack of planning leaving the CAR deployment without either air or ground support.
Questions are also being asked about intelligence, the lack of it or possible misinterpretation that saw the small South African force have to take on a large number of rebels.
These are among questions David Maynier, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister; Pieter Groenewald, FF+ defence spokesman, SA National Defence Union general secretary Pikkie Greeff and others want parliament to find answers to.
Maynier is seeking establishment of an ad-hoc Parliamentary committee to investigate all aspects of the CAR deployment while Groenewald said the weekend’s events were yet another indicator of a poorly managed and funded defence force.