Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been answering questions on child soldiers during a joint standing committee on defence meeting.
"If our soldiers were attacked by children they were correct to defend themselves," she said on Thursday. "If a child shoots at you, are you going to wave your hands, give him a sweetie, blow kisses?"
Mapisa-Nqakula was referring to reports in Sunday papers two weeks ago that surviving soldiers who were deployed to the Central African Republic after a coup had to defend themselves against child soldiers.
A paratrooper told the Sunday Times: "It was only after the firing had stopped that we saw we had killed kids. We did not come here for this … to kill kids. It makes you sick. They were crying, calling for help … calling for [their] moms."
In the City Press a soldier was quoted as saying many of the rebels were "only children".
Asked about whether there were any more soldiers missing or dead, Mapisa-Nqakula said: "There is something called 'roll call'."
"There is no way we could have been sitting around believing we've had 13 fatalities, 27 injured and there may be others missing. If anything I will tell you, I was sitting on all the generals saying have you done your roll call, do we have people who are missing?"
"South Africa is not an aggressor, it's not a state that will go attack other countries. What we stand for is the reintegration of Africa, it's an Africa that has peace and stability because we believe peace and stability paves the way for development. We will not adopt an offensive posture as a country," she said.
Scope and goals
Cope MP Mosiuoa Lekota tried to read through the scope and goals of the original memorandum of understanding (MOU) that he had originally signed while defense minister, saying that it would be necessary for the public to see whether what had been done in the CAR was in accordance with what had been agreed in the MOU or not.
- Read the original MOU here
"In the MOU I signed on behalf of South Africa in 2007, nowhere appears a commitment to plan, to implement disarmament, demilitarisation and reintegration. They appear nowhere and in fact, minister, you yourself, in a reply to a question put to you in Parliament on February 10 2011, you told Parliament that South Africa’s involvement in the security of the CAR followed a request by President Francois Bozize to assist the CAR’s defence force to upgrade their military capabilities. You then said subsequent to that, that an MOU was signed, and then accepted by Cabinet on August 29 2008," he said.
"The issue of planning and implementation of disarmament, demilitarisation and reintegration is nowhere in this memorandum. The first time I became aware of it is when the president announced this year in February that he had deployed 400 troops to the CAR for that purpose of planning and implementation of disarmament, demilitarisation and integration. What happened between 2007 and this time – there must have been a change in my view. There must have been something else negotiated to change the MOU I had signed in 2007 to bring in this question of demilitarisation."
"When did that change happen?" he asked.
In response to Lekota's question, Mapisa-Nqakula said that MOUs can be amended and that what is in the original MOU is not necessarily all that is agreed to.
“In any defence cooperation that you have, the situation is so dynamic that every now and then there are certain things you will change in your agreement and I think this is one of those times where you will do that.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said the question of why the South African troops appeared to have been singled out by the rebels was "very worrying".
“I need these answers. Intelligence need these answers. South Africa need these answers. Why were we targeted? Why were we singled out?”
She added that national security was a concern. "Can we as South Africans really believe there will never be a threat against South Africa?" she asked.
Mapisa-Nqakula rubbished reports that the SANDF was defending the assets of private companies and individuals in the CAR. "There’s a story doing rounds in the Mail & Guardian about assets of individuals which really has nothing to do with what the SANDF was doing in the CAR."
"Do you think that we would take the SANDF, send them out to defend or protect what belongs to individuals? It’s so incorrect."
On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma announced South Africa's troops would be pulled out of the CAR, saying the agreement under which the soldiers were deployed was void due to the fall of the CAR's government.
Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in the conflict-ridden country on March 24 after a coalition of rebel forces invaded the capital city of Bangui.
A further 27 soldiers were injured and one more soldier was reported missing. The deposed leader of the CAR Francois Bozize fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and rebel leader Michel Djotodia declared himself interim president.