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12 Dec 2007 07:40
Like children who cannot wait to open presents on Christmas Day, South African soldiers cheered loudly when a large cargo plane carrying goodwill parcels from home arrived in Burundi on Tuesday.
When the cargo plane flew over the Modderfontein base in Africa’s Great Lakes region, the troops spontaneously started singing.
“I don’t think the sponsors always know how much these gifts mean to our troops,” said Colonel Hein Visser, South African task force commander in Burundi.
He was referring to goodwill parcels brought from South Africa as part of a morale-boosting festive season tour by South African National Defence Force officers.
In addition to the parcels, which consisted of a picnic backpack stocked with glasses and plates, companies also donated sports gear including soccer kit.
“You can see, it’s like a holiday here today,” Visser said.
About 780 South African peacekeepers are deployed in Burundi under the African Union’s (AU) mandate.
They are the last foreign peacekeepers in the country, after the United Nations withdrew its peacekeepers last year.
The South Africans stayed on, changing their blue UN berets for green AU berets.
Talks between the Burundian government and the Palipehutu-FNL—the last remaining rebel group—facilitated by Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, have reached a deadlock.
This has meant that the South African soldiers have had to stay longer, protecting rebel leaders who want to enter the talks and those who have already laid down their arms.
“My family is getting used to it, they almost expect me not to be home over Christmas,” said Private Siyabulela Magebhula, who is on his fourth foreign tour of duty.
“My wife has a credit card. She is the boss now, she must make sure the children gets their Christmas presents,” he said.
Magebhula said he would be sure to telephone his family on Christmas Day. - Sapa
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