Saturday marked the first anniversary of the involvement of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) elements in the ill-fated Battle for Bangui and while medals for bravery and valour have been awarded questions still remain.
One who wants public answers about South Africa’s involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR) at and before the time of the battle is David Maynier, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow minister of defence and military veterans.
In a statement timed to mark the anniversary, he said the firefight in the CAR capital resulted in the death of 15 South African soldiers who “when the fighting began fought well”.
“However, South Africa still does not know what really happened because there has been a deliberate and systematic cover-up of what has become known as ‘CARgate’.”
According to him the country has been “offered” a heroic battle narrative focused on the Battle for Bangui.
“This is, inevitably, only part of the truth. A proper investigation would almost certainly reveal President Jacob Zuma misled Parliament about the SANDF deployment to CAR and never informed Parliament about subsequent deployments in the DRC.”
He also points to intelligence failures and capability gaps, including a lack of suitable transport aircraft as other factors contributing to South African fatalities.
“That the operation was not all ‘military precision’ is revealed in leaked documents which provide an insight into the chaos at Joint Operations Command in the early hours of March 24, 2013, as it became clear that five registered/approved companies, contracted to provide air transport services, had no transport aircraft available to lift armoured patrol vehicles, a diesel bowser and more soldiers to the conflict zone.
“In the end Force Commander, Colonel William Dixon, and his soldiers from 1 Parachute Battalion and 5 Special Forces Regiment appear to have been left dangling in a deadly firefight, without the necessary support, in a country where they should never have been deployed,” Maynier said.
Attempts to establish what exactly happened through channels including the Joint Standing Committee on Defence as well as setting up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the SANDF involvement in CAR came to nothing.
“We know the SANDF conducted an internal review of the CAR deployment. We also know the SANDF convened three boards of enquiry relating to CARgate, including one to investigate the loss of controlled items, including weapons and vehicles. These documents have never seen the light of day and the findings have never been shared with the Joint Standing Committee on Defence.
“It was the greatest military disaster in the history of democratic South Africa. Yet a year later we are still none the wiser about what really happened in CAR,” Maynier said. Thirteen soldiers died in the firefight and anther two succumbed to their wounds.