SA soldiers coming home from the DRC this weekend


South African soldiers stranded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) thanks to an apparent aviation administrative snarl-up are expected home this weekend.

The about 860 soldiers, believed to be 121 SA Infantry Battalion members, were scheduled to rotate from a year-long tour of duty with MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade, Gauteng Afrikaans daily Beeld reports. The group was supposed to fly back to Bloemfontein aboard an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft. The airline is contracted to the United Nations but an apparent lack of a foreign operators permit saw the flight turned back and the soldiers left with only their sleeping bags.

According to the paper, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, head of SANDF Joint Operations, approached the Department of Transport and agreement was reached for an exemption to allow the Addis Ababa headquartered airline to fly the South African soldiers home.
“All we want to do is bring our soldiers home safely. They have spent a year away under trying circumstances and deserve to be back. What they do not deserve is to be victims in a dispute in which they have no part,” Mgwebi is reported as having said.

The dispute is about air transport licencing legislation and regulations. Parts of these apparently specify South Africa’s “economic and other national interests” be taken into account when considering the issue of foreign operator permits.

Mgwebi said the military asked for a temporary setting aside of the regulations to enable the soldiers to be brought home.

He added the issue of flights for soldiers would have to be taken up with both the South African Department of Transport and the United Nations.

Earlier this week Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga dismissed claims that SANDF members were stranded at a South African staging post in Entebbe, Uganda.
“They are due to be transported back home as soon as all administration and logistic arrangements for their transportation has been finalised by the relevant entities,” he said.