South African peacekeepers return home after allegedly going AWOL


About 50 South African soldiers have been sent home from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they were part of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) operating under the auspices of MONUSCO, after apparently going AWOL (absent without official leave) and visiting a local brothel.

The soldiers are all from 121 SA Infantry Battalion at Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal. A South African National Defence Force (SANDF) statement said: “The members were found to have acted in a manner that compromised the security of SANDF members deployed in the area by breaching or violating the SANDF Military Discipline Supplementary Measures Act and Code of Conduct as well as the UN Code of Conduct for Peacekeepers. They will face the military judicial system as soon as all necessary administration processes have been finalised”.
eNCA reported that “two platoons of…troops are being sent home…after 23 soldiers visited a shebeen frequented by sex workers in Goma…A second group of 27 followed suit last Saturday‚” without permission to leave base.

South African National Defence Union secretary Pikkie Greef questioned the ability to prosecute the soldiers, saying “The military courts have not been functional since April this year because the minister of defence has not signed off, for reasons best known to herself, the appointments of the military judges.” This was refuted by Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, SANDF Defence Corporate Communications, who told EWN that “It is not true that we don’t have judges.”

Gauteng Afrikaans daily Beeld reports it will cost the SANDF about R1.5 million to bring the troublemakers home. An aircraft has to be tasked to collect them at Goma and there is no budget allocation for the unplanned expense.

Another problem facing the SANDF for its commitment to the MONUSCO and FIB deployment is that it has to replace soldiers removed. The SA Army does currently not have 50 soldiers on strength whose medical classification meets the required standard, the paper said.

The South African military contribution to the FIB has been both ground- and air-based since its formation in 2013. 121 SA Infantry Battalion is currently the land-based unit while 16 Squadron and its home-grown Rooivalk combat support helicopter has been part of the brigade’s aerial spearhead. 121 SAI is the third infantry unit to be deployed in eastern DRC following 5 and 6 SAI.

The FIB is credited with the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group from eastern DRC.

Separately, the SANDF’s mission to train the DRC military’s (FARDC’s) armed forces, Mission Thebe, has to date trained and handed over 9 000 recruits and soldiers for utilisation by the DRC.