/ 2 April 2013

Zuma: Questions on CAR endanger South Africa

Zuma: Questions On Car Endanger South Africa

It was a speech thin on condolences but heavily laced with accusation and warning.

"The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country," President Jacob Zuma told a memorial service for the 13 soldiers killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week. 

"There must also be an appreciation that military matters and decisions are not matters that are discussed in public, other than to share broader policy."

  • Read the full speech here

Those who demand that military strategy be discussed in public, Zuma said, "should be careful not to endanger both the national interest and the security of the republic while pursuing party political goals".

Zuma said: "The tears of grief from the families are both inevitable and deserved, because of the calibre of men we have lost. To the families, your pain is shared by thousands of South Africans in many corners of the country and the continent. 

"When future generations ask what kind of men and women these were, who gave so much of their lives to the service of the people of South Africa and the continent, we will be able to boldly say how special they were, to put their own lives at risk for such a noble mission of building peace in the continent."

A dozen metres away, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille sat stone-faced. The DA on Monday said it would call on Parliament to demand that Zuma withdraw remaining troops from the CAR.

But Zuma also appeared to be referring to the likes of the South African National Defence Union (Sandu), which was vocal in its criticism and demands for information.

Zuma echoed the sentiments expressed by the ANC on Monday, saying there were those who sought to dishonour the dead "peddling various unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories".

Perpetual campaign
"We will not be side-tracked by those who are on a perpetual campaign against this democratic government," Zuma said. "Let me emphasise that we reject any insinuation that these soldiers were sent to the CAR for any reason other than in pursuit of the national interest and the interests of the African continent."

The 13 soldiers, he said, died in pursuit of South Africa's national interest and in pursuit of peace on the African continent.

Zuma said future military action in the CAR region would depend on decisions yet to be taken with the African Union and a regional economic body. That continues to leave unanswered questions on the disposition of South African troops, with conflicting reports that most have been withdrawn to Pretoria, or just south of Bangui to the Democratic Republic or Congo, or that a small contingent still remained in the CAR.

The military has referred such questions to the presidency, and the presidency has referred questions back to the military. Both had promised a press conference on Tuesday, but that did not come to pass.

Nor did Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula shed any light on Tuesday. Speaking at the memorial service she merely asked for Zuma to share his comfort and wisdom.

The only detail of the deaths of the 13 soldiers to be shared with families at the event, which the military described as a church service, came from the commander of Combat Team Charlie. His group was caught at a forward position overrun by rebels, he said, and tried to make its way back to the nearby base when it was ambushed. In the dark soldiers first sought refuge in bushes and tall grass, then fought their way back to base.