The remains of Private Vincent Mthuthuzeli van der Walt, who lost his life during an attack in Sudan last month, were received by family and military officials during a ceremony at Waterkloof Air Force Base this morning.
Van der Walt, of 10 South African Infantry Battalion, Mafikeng, was killed on October 17 whilst travelling in a Unamid (United Nations – African Union Hybrid operation in Darfur) convoy in Sudan’s Darfur region. Two other South African soldiers, Corporal Kabelo Ronald Sebe and Private Thabiso Sydwell Makhetha, were injured.
Van der Walt’s family as well as senior South African National Defence Force (SANDF) officials were present to receive his remains at Waterkloof, with a parade conducted by 21 South African Infantry Battalion.
“It’s a sad note that we have lost a member in operations but that is not going to deter our involvement in mission on the continent,” said Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, Director Defence Corporate Communication at the Department of Defence.
He added that casualties are to be expected in operations “where life and death are involved,” and said that the SANDF men and women who serve their country are willing to lay down their lives when needed. “We regard them as our heroes.”
Van der Walt was 23 years old when he was killed, on his first deployment. Tiro Pooe, van der Walt’s brother, said that he had only been in the SANDF for one year and eight months. Pooe described his brother as a vibrant, passionate young man who did not find Sudan a difficult place to be. “He wanted to go…It was his passion…He wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to serve the South African Defence Force.”
The funeral will be held tomorrow in Klerksdorp.
The SANDF last month dispatched a senior officer to Sudan to investigate the attack on Unamid.
Spokesperson for the United Nations – African Union hybrid operations in Darfur Aicha Elbasri stated that the attack was “carried out by unidentified assailants who have used arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before. This includes mortars, medium machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles and anti-tank guns.” She said an armoured personnel carrier, one of 16 vehicles in the convoy, was hit several times by weapons fire.
The convoy, comprising military, police and civilian personnel, was ambushed whilst on its way to the Hashaba area, where at least 70 civilians died in September from fighting between rebels and Sudanese government forces.
“This well-prepared attack against (the) Unamid verification mission could mean that it was deliberately carried out to prevent the mission from accessing Hashaba and assessing the situation following recent reports of violence in the area,” Elbasri said.
It was the second deadly ambush in a month in Sudan. On October 2, four Nigerian members of Unamid died in an ambush near El- Geneina in West Darfur. A total of 43 peacekeepers have been killed since Unamid was set up, according to the force.
Unamid, the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, was deployed by the United Nations and the African Union in the arid western territory of Sudan after fierce fighting in 2003 which forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Around 2 000 SANDF personnel are currently taking part in peacekeeping operations, as South Africa increases its role in regional conflict resolution and peacekeeping efforts. SANDF troops are deployed in Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The SANDF has been involved in more than 15 peace support operations, involving the deployment of around 2 500 military personnel. Deployment areas for these operations have included the DRC, Burundi, Sudan, Côte d’Ivore, Liberia, Nepal, CAR, the Comoros, and Mozambique.