Defence in a democracy does apparently not extend to supplying Parliament with supposedly sensitive information, even when there is a precedent.
“Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, seems determined to ensure the truth about the circumstances surrounding the death of 15 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) is never made public,” is how David Maynier, the DA’s shadow defence minister, reacted to the answers to a Parliamentary question.
The men were killed during a firefight with an estimated 600 armed rebels in CAR 18 months ago.
“She claims in replying to the question on the findings of an internal inquiry into the deaths of South African soldiers in the CAR that ‘the report of the board of inquiry contains security sensitive information pertaining to operational matters that can only be disclosed in the closed session of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, when it is convened’,” the former submariner said.
He also takes the Minister to task for her response of equipment apparently left behind in the CAR. Mapisa-Nqakula’s reply reads: “The operational report on the CAR operation in question (the so-called Battle of Bangui) is classified. Only training equipment was left behind; the retrieval and transference back to South Africa would not be cost effective”.
“Her reply suggests that SANDF’s Gecko rapid deployment vehicles, captured by Seleka rebels, must somehow have been retrieved,” is Maynier’s interpretation and he wants the truth to be told about the tragic events of the CAR.
Just last week SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, said what had happened in the CAR now formed part and parcel of force preparation and training ahead of continental peacekeeping and peace support deployments. Colonel William Dixon, CAR force commander, has been called on to provide input for troops preparing for deployment on continental missions.
The precedent for information of this kind to be given to specialist Parliamentary committees was set in 1998 following the joint Botswana/South Africa incursion into Lesotho.
“Then SANDF Chief, General Siphiwe Nyanda, together with force commander Colonel Robbie Hartslief provided a full briefing to an open meeting of inter alia the Joint Standing Committee on Defence,” Maynier pointed out.
General Solly Shoke, current SANDF Chief, was the South African officer in overall command of Operation Boleas which Maynier referred to as “the disastrous invasion of Lesotho”.
He is adamant “we (South Africa) has to get to the bottom of how it is that Dixon and soldiers from 1 Parachute Battalion and 5 Special Forces Regiment appear to have been left dangling without the necessary support in a deadly firefight”.
His point of departure will be a motion calling for a Parliamentary ad hoc committee to be established to investigate the 15 fatalities.