South Africa: Active Service Overseas 'Always Emotive'

press release

The deployment of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops in the Central African Republic which led to the death of thirteen soldiers was debated in Parliament this week.

It was always going to be emotive, and the presence of the Minister of Defence, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa -Nqakula, was welcomed by the Opposition because it gave them an opportunity to ask her whether our country's involvement in the conflict was honourable or not.

The Minister said the involvement of the South African Defence Force in the Central African Republic (CAR) was driven by South Africa's foreign policy imperative of building "a better Africa", free of wars, conflicts and instability.

"There is no possibility of developmental and economic success for a South Africa that is surrounded by a pool of instability, war and hunger on the continent.

Members of the official opposition who differ with our policy of friendship, who are themselves former members of the previous SADF, will wish that their own involvement as members of that force should be forgotten. They will desperately want to exploit any negativity about the pursuance of our policies, to call for this country to 'dump' the plight of the continent."

The deployment of soldiers in CAR was billed as the fulfillment of an international obligation, but according to Mr David Maynier (Democratic Alliance), it was not.

"We were told that the deployment was in fulfillment of an international obligation. However, the Memorandum of Understanding, which the exchange of diplomatic notes signed on 31 December 2012 purported to be extending, had already lapsed.

The exchange of diplomatic notes, surprisingly, contained no replying diplomatic note from the CAR as required by bi-literal international agreements. This raises very serious questions about whether the bi-literal agreement, in terms of which the SANDF was deployed to the CAR, was valid," he said

According to Mr Lance Greyling (Independent Democrats) the burden of proof lay on the government to explain whether the deployment of South African soldiers in CAR was honourable or not.

"It is downright scandalous for them to say we are desecrating our soldiers' graves by asking questions around our military involvement in CAR. The burden of proof lies on the government to convince Parliament and the public at large that our motives in this conflict were (in fact) honourable."

It seemed that the presence of South African soldiers in Central African Republic was not driven by peace-keeping mission, but rather by commercial interests, said Mr Bantu Holomisa (United Democratic Movement).

"President Bozize made a startling revelation in December last year when he publicly proclaimed that his government was being targeted for giving mining rights to South Africa and China.

The question remains to what extent these mining rights had been diverted away from South Africa's state-owned mining companies, in favour of a secret few and politically connected companies such as Chancellor House, as reported?" he said.

Mr Petrus Groenewald (Freedom Front Plus) took exception to the absence of the President from the debate. "It is insensitive that the President is not here, it is a slap in the face of those who died in the CAR."

According to Mr Kenneth Meshoe (African Christian Democratic Party) a judicial commission of inquiry was the only mechanism that could address contradictory statements on why South African soldiers were sent to CAR.

"We have called on President Zuma to institute a judicial commission of inquiry to look into allegations that the SANDF acted outside its mandate when it was allegedly protecting the business interests of some politically connected individuals in the CAR."

Mr Baloo Bhoola (Minority Front) contextualized the deployment of South African soldiers to CAR as a part of South Africa's endeavour to play an active role in instilling peace and stability on the African continent.

"We have every duty to give support to a democratically elected leader. Our involvement in CAR is part of our courage and conviction to give leadership to the African agenda and to build a better Africa."

South Africa should be wary of being to Africa, what America was to the world, warned Mr Koti Dikobo (Azanian Peoples' Organisation). "We must be wary of being what America is to the world: a bully. To address that, we must ensure that South African interest in peace-keeping is undertaken as a part of a multinational force."

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said South Africa could not afford to be an island of peace while the continent was at war.

"We are an integral part of a vision to contribute to a world that is just and equitable. And we will not allow Africa to be partitioned in accordance to its former colonies. We will say 'No' to that because the crisis in CAR is a microcosm of Africa's challenges in the 21st century. Peace, stability and security, and our involvement in Africa, is linked to these objectives."

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