SADC defence conference “historic”

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Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence chiefs, as well as heads of intelligence agencies are meeting in a historic three-day conference outside Pretoria to work out a joint anti-piracy and maritime crime-busting strategy.

A source present at the Velmore Hotel, where Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu addressed the attendees, described the Extraordinary Meeting of the SADC Defence and Security Council (DSC) and Senior Staff Council (SSC) on a Regional Anti-Piracy Strategy, as a “historic occasion,” as never before has all the defence chiefs of SADC gathered in the same place.

The source requested anonymity, because the details of the meeting were sensitive, as were those of a previous SADC meeting last month.

This was the first time South Africa and its SADC neighbours were working on a joint strategy, said the source, which would be much more effective than if each member country had a plan of their own. It was important to harmonise legislative, political, economic and judicial policies to allow the armed forces to operate swiftly and effectively against maritime criminals, including pirates.

The recently-appointed Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) General Solly Shoke was present at the address and dinner, as was the Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Refiloe Mudimu, albeit in civilian dress.

The atmosphere was relaxed with only a hint of ceremonial, this being provided by an all-woman contingent of the National Ceremonial Guard as Sisulu entered the hall.

South Africa’s current deployment of Valour-Class frigates along with maritime patrol aircraft of the South African Air Force (SAAF) did not represent the total anti-piracy strategy, the source said, stressing that this was being worked on jointly.

The deployments of South African naval and air assets to the waters of the Mozambique Channel were to show “presence”. The source said the frigates, their attached Agusta-Westland SuperLynx 300 maritime helicopters from 22 Squadron, and the maritime patrol aircraft (likely the C-47TP Turbo Dakota of 35 Squadron) have given a sense of confidence to those who make a living in Mozambican waters after the hijacking of a Mozambican-registered vessel in December and a Liberian-registered ship in January. “What we know is that Mozambican fishermen are back at sea”, the source said.

A report by the Macauhub news service seems to underline this confidence, saying Botswana has decided to use the Mozambican capital, Maputo, as the final destination of its cargo.