The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is readying itself to be part of the recently announced UN intervention brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and movement of troops and equipment has commenced.
“We are not scared to go to war,” Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told a local radio station yesterday. At the same time David Maynier, the opposition Democratic Alliance party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister, wanted to know if South Africa was going to war in the DRC.
“If M23 declare war against the SANDF we are ready to tackle them. The SANDF will never be deterred by any circumstances to pursue or do what we are asked to do by the government of South Africa,” Mabanga said on SAfm.
Last week the South African military denied reports that chartered Russian airlifters were moving equipment and troops to the Ugandan capital of Entebbe in preparation for a possible return to the Central African Republic (CAR). This followed the withdrawal of South African troops after what has become known as the Battle for Bangui which claimed the lives of 13 crack South African soldiers from 1 Parachute Battalion.
At least some SANDF soldiers based in Bangui were apparently moved to Gemena in the DRC.
It has now emerged the latest movement of South African soldiers is for the DRC UN intervention brigade. Establishment of the brigade was announced at the end of last month by the UN Security Council to “address imminent threats to peace and security”.
The objectives of the new force, to be based in North Kivu province and total 3 069 peacekeepers, are to neutralise armed groups, reduce the threat they pose to state authority and civilian security and make space for stabilisation activities, the New York headquartered organisation said.
The brigade has been established within the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) for at least a year. Its timeframe is set to close on March 31 next year.
While the SANDF has not divulged exact details of its involvement in the newly formed UN brigade, information from the greater African diplomatic corps has revealed SAAF Gripen fighter jets and Rooivalk combat support helicopters are at Kinshasa Airport. Attempts to establish exactly how many of the Swedish third generation jets and home-grown gunships have been moved to DRC have, since Friday, not been responded to by senior SANDF communications officers.
The helicopters, in partially dissembled form, would probably have been aboard at least some of the chartered Russian Il-76 or An-124 airlifters that flew numerous sorties from both Air Force bases Bloemspruit and Waterkloof earlier this month.
The cost of the airlift is estimated at between R277 and R370 million and will be paid by the SANDF, its communication head Siphiwe Dlamini said.
Mabanga told SAfm that the SANDF was in a different situation in the DRC when compared to the CAR.
“We know what the conflict is in the DRC while we cannot say the same for the CAR,” he said.
Maynier, on the other hand, is worried about more SANDF fatalities and wants President Zuma to tell Parliament and the country whether South African soldiers will be going to war against rebels.
“If this is true there is a high risk of casualties and the President must tell us what is going on,” he said.