Whereto next for Burundi peacekeepers?

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Government has seemingly not yet decided what to do with the battalion of peacekeepers still deployed in Burundi as part of Operation Curriculum, South Africa‘s support to the African Union’s Special Task Force in the Great Lakes state.

 

That is the implication of an answer by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to a question on the fate of the troops in the National Assembly.

According to the unrevised Hansard for August 19, Democratic Alliance deputy defence spokesman James Lorimer asked Motlanthe whether the troops would be “redeployed to another peace-keeping mission or … to protect South African borders.”

Motlanthe answered that he “would hope that the achievement of peace and stability on the continent would exclude any more possibilities of us deploying our troops outside of our borders. As much as possible, we should really ensure that these conflict-ridden areas are stabilised.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that the need for more deployments outside of the country is lessened,” Motlanthe continued.



The Burundi deployment was scheduled to wrap-up this month and President Jacob Zuma was to officiate a lowering-of-the-flag ceremony at SA`s “Camp Modderfontein” in Bujumbura on August 8. But days before the event the ceremony was postponed to a date in November. No reason was given for the delay.           

Regarding the domestic deployment of the SA National Defence Force, Motlanthe said the military “should be kept in the barracks here at home and only be deployed outside of the barracks with the permission of this Parliament so that we do not militarise our society as well.”

A number of ministers and other actors have of late argued a more prominent role for the military in society. Earlier this year Police minister Nathi Mthetwa suggested the military escort cash-in-transit vehicles and continue borderline control. Earlier this month Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu suggested a role in skills development, while last week Transnet, the state transport utility, told Business Report newspaper it had requested government to deploy the Army along rail corridors to stem copper theft.

Motlanthe supported Sisulu, saying there “are all kinds of skills in the defence force. We think that the Ministry of Rural Development can benefit a great deal from some of those skills in making the quality of life of rural communities much better. As you know there are engineers who could build bridges where they did not exist.

“The Minister of Defence agreed with us that the country could benefit more from employing the skills in the defence force here are home, better than if we kept on deploying them on foreign soil,” he said.

But even so, Motlanthe said “the deployment of the defence force here at home should really be confined to areas of extreme need.”

Earlier Motlanthe had answered in the affirmative a question from defence portfolio committee chairman Mnyamezeli “Nyami” Booi as to whether SANDF peacekeeping operations strengthened SA`s relationship with the countries concerned.

“I believe that it was important that our people should know that the creation of political stability was a great achievement and contribution from our National Defence Force…,” Motlanthe said.

“The promotion of peace and security is one of SA`s most important objectives. This includes the strengthening of conflict-prevention and resolution capabilities of the region and rendering assistance in monitoring and addressing domestic issues that affect stability.”

Regarding Burundi, Motlanthe said he had earlier this month “bumped into” that country`s president at a meeting in “Congo Brazzaville … and he thanked SA for having assisted in stabilising that country. I think the impact has been a very positive one.”

Pic: SA troops in Burundi on a Monuc mission