In the aftermath of an extended fire fight that saw South African soldiers take on overwhelming odds in the Central African Republic (CAR), SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke summarily dismissed rumours this continental SANDF deployment will be cut short.
“It is not for the SANDF to decide when to come home or not and we do not run away. Our soldiers are still in the operational area waiting for the next call,” he said at a media briefing in Thaba Tshwane following heavy fighting in and around the CAR capital of Bangui at the weekend.
About 200 of the South African protection contingent engaged more than 3 000 rebels, armed with assault rifles, mortars and heavy machine guns, in a prolonged 19 hour fire fight, interrupted by two truce appeals. The fire fight had its origins near Bangui Base where the South African soldiers had set up an ambush. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of opponents they withdrew and regrouped in readiness “for the long haul” Shoke said.
“Sadly we lost 13 soldiers, with one still missing in action and 27 were wounded. But we as South Africans must be proud of them all. They performed outstandingly, doing the work they trained long and hard for and all are a credit to both the country and the national defence force.”
He said a good indication of the way the South African soldiers stood up against a massively superior force in number terms was that the rebels came seeking truce under a white flag.
Asked what lay ahead for the SANDF contingent in the troubled country Shoke said they would stay and do the job they had been tasked to do – protect South Africans and South African assets – until orders to the contrary were issued.
“We do not run away,” he declared.
All the wounded personnel have already been safely evacuated to 1 Military hospital in Thaba Tshwane while others, with light injuries, were treated in theatre and are ready to take up arms again, if needed, Shoke said.
He would not be drawn on the logistic trail to keep the South African soldiers properly supplied with ammunition and other essentials, including medical supplies, other than to say: “We have done it so far and will continue doing it”.
“Protection of our people is our top priority and it will be done,” the tall and authoritative four star general told media representatives.
“I personally highly commend both the discipline and calibre of the SANDF members deployed in the CAR. They are true South African heroes and I praise them for conducting themselves valiantly in the face of overwhelming opposition,” he said.