/ 14 October 2007

Dept of Defence to probe deadly training accident

Six names of the nine South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers who died during a training accident at the South African Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatla, Northern Cape, were released on Saturday.

Spokesperson Brigadier General Kwena Mangope said John Bezuidenhout (30), female bombardier Khangezwe Malaza (24), Rhulani Mtileni (23), Thapelo Mkwana (21), Samuel Nyembe (22) and Botse Seipato (21) were among the soldiers who died in Friday’s incident.

Mangope said the names of the other soldiers are to be released once their next of kin have been notified.

”Despite earlier reports that 10 soldiers had died, only nine were killed in the shooting accident during anti-aircraft gun training in Lohatla,” said Mangope.

Fourteen injured troops remained at Pelonomi and 3 Military hospitals as well as the sickbay at the combat training centre. Their conditions were reported as ”satisfactory”.

”Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and SANDF chief General Godfrey Ngwenya extended their condolences to the families of the deceased. They also wished the injured a speedy recovery,” said Mangope.

The 24 soldiers were taking part in a training event involving 35mm MK5 anti-aircraft guns during Exercise Seboka when the accident happened.

The Department of Defence has appointed a high-level board of inquiry to investigate the accident.

The country’s two defence unions had on Saturday urged the Defence Ministry to probe the accident. ”There are a number of questions that must be answered,” said South African Security Forces’ Union deputy president Charles Jacobs.

He said a ”fully transparent” ministerial inquiry was needed to establish not only the cause of the accident, but also how so many soldiers could have been killed and injured.

”By nature of their job soldiers can be exposed to these incidents, but now a reality check is needed,” added South African National Defence Union general secretary Pikkie Greeff. ”We are demanding a thorough investigation that should be broadened to issues of negligence, manufacturer, age and maintenance of the weapon.”

It was premature to suggest that what had happened was an accident, said Greeff. The investigation needed to look at both the cause of the incident and deficiencies in the military, he said. — Sapa