SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse) guidance ahead of and during all SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployments, internally and continentally, is an integral component of training.
When South African soldiers and other military personnel are tasked with a tour of duty with MONUSCO they have already been through SEA guidance at unit level ahead of reporting to the SANDF mobilisation centre in Bloemfontein. The same applies to troops and support personnel tasked with border protection duty as part of the ongoing Operation Corona.
The only difference is those bound for the border do not have any exposure to UN SEA officials. This is “reserved” for troops going to the Democratic Republic of Congo under the SANDF’s Operation Mistral. At the mobilisation centre they will have the benefit of guidance from the UN Missions’ Conduct and Discipline teams.
Earlier this year 820 SANDF members received UN guidance ahead of movement to the central African country where they are currently part of the UN’s largest peacekeeping force. MONUSCO said after the Bloemfontein session “all ranks of the South African contingent took part in the training, including top officers who were specifically reminded of their critical role in maintaining discipline among their troops”.
South Africa, along with other UN member states who are troop contributing countries to UN missions, is responsible for own pre-deployment training. This is done at unit/base level, said Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, Staff Officer, Operational Communication, SANDF Joint Operations Division.
“It is part and parcel of combat readiness training at unit level and continues through to the mobilisation centre and then onto actual deployment where SEA is the responsibility of SANDF Human Resources and Legal Services.”
“This forms an integral part of mission readiness training as opposed to combat readiness which happens at units’ home bases. There is a comprehensive checklist and all the boxes have to be ticked,” he said.
Points on the checklist include physical fitness, mental capabilities, dietetics and SEA. The mission readiness training is done at the commencement of each Op Corona deployment.
South African soldiers deployed continentally have been implicated in SEA incidents, ranging from rape to taking advantage of women or forming relationships, which are seen as abuse of powers. There were seven SEA cases involving South Africans reported in 2015, five in 2016 and two in the first quarter of this year.
Last month when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly, President Jacob Zuma met with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss ways of curbing sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions. He is reported to have told the top UN official South Africa was “committed” to curbing sexual abuse and exploitation by its soldiers and would also support abuse victims.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is one record as saying “One case of SEA is one case too many”.
“The reverberations it causes throughout the contingent and image it gives our country reverses the gains made over the almost two decades we have been involved in peace missions.”