SA soldiers who allegedly went AWOL in DRC discharged


South African soldiers recalled from duty with the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in September have been “administratively discharged and/or dismissed” from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

The soldiers, believed to be about 50 in number, but not confirmed by the SANDF, were part of the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the first ever UN peacekeeping deployment with an offensive mandate, were sent back to South Africa after apparently going absent without official leave (AWOL) in the eastern part of the central African country.

The official line on their dismissal from the SANDF is “they were withdrawn from the deployment/operational area in the DRC following their actions which compromised the security of other SANDF members deployed in the area by breaching or violating the SANDF Military Discipline Supplementary Measures Act and Code of Conduct as well United Nations Code of Conduct for Peacekeepers”.

Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, Director: Defence Corporate Communication, said: “The SANDF would like to put it on record that it will continue to exercise its responsibility to ensure the SANDF is managed as a disciplined force without fear or favour. Individuals or groups who seem (sic) to promote acts of ill-discipline within the SANDF will be dealt with according to the prescribed processes and procedures.
“It must be known and accepted that at all times members of the SANDF are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner and in accordance to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the Defence Act, Military Disciplinary Supplementary Measures Act, SANDF Code of Conduct, the principles of international laws regulating the use of force and any other applicable policy, directive or instruction.”

The dismissed soldiers were all members of 121 SA Infantry Battalion at Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal.

They were sent back home following the AWOL incident which apparently saw at least some soldiers found in a tavern “frequented by sex workers”. The soldiers came back to South Africa in two groups – one of 23 followed a few days later by another group of 27, reports at the end of September indicated.

The SANDF statement on the dismissal does not indicate whether South Africa has replaced the soldiers it brought back.

Soon after their return, Sandu (SA National Defence Union) indicated it would seek legal advice for at least 15 of the soldiers because the SANDF had shown “flagrant disregard of the military legislation dealing with military discipline and of the Constitution of South Africa”.

Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said: “SANDF members who are alleged to have committed disciplinary breaches are, by law, entitled to a fair trial by a military court. The SANDF is also by law obliged to prosecute any disciplinary breach for which it has prima facie evidence”.