Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula attacked the media and the opposition parties for using the deaths of 13 South African soldiers in the Central African Republic for political gain on Tuesday afternoon, while delivering a statement in Parliament about the developments regarding the deployment of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to the Central African Republic.
“In line with the character of a democratic society we want to build; South Africa chose a diplomatic policy based on the need for peaceful co-existence and friendship with our neighbours … This is in direct contrast to the apartheid approach of deploying the previous SADF for cross-border raids, killing innocent civilians within our continent,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
"[But] members of the official opposition [Democratic Alliance] who differ with our policy of friendship, themselves former members of this previous SADF, will wish that their own involvement as members of that force should be forgotten," she said.
“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,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
The minister said as part of this, they have used the mainstream media to build a consistent campaign to distort the mission of the soldiers in the CAR.
"The spokespersons of the DA almost thanked their gods for handing them the gift of the loss of our soldiers so close to the next general elections," she said.
“This is done without any iota of shame and kindness. When the eyes of the nation are filled with tears, theirs only saw how these tragic deaths will justify the resuscitation of calls for a ‘motion of no confidence’ in a democratically and popularly elected government.”
Since the killing of 13 South African soldiers in the battle of Bangui on March 23, the media and the opposition parties have been calling on the government to explain the reasons the troops were deployed in that country.
Opposition parties claimed that both President Jacob Zuma and Mapisa-Nqakula misled Parliament and the country about the reasons for the deployment to the CAR.
Turning on the media, Mapisa-Nqakula claimed that not once have the reports about this mission ever emphasised the heroism of the South African soldiers. Instead it selected to deliberately project an image of a defeated force, without giving due recognition to the valour of the 200 SANDF troops who fought for nine hours against a group of 3 000, repelled the threat, killing over 700 and suffered minimal casualties.
“This urge for a negative slant, to distort the record of history and not accord hero status to these soldiers is regrettable … Those bent on this campaign, have even advanced to vulgarism by the opposition, depicting our soldiers as mercenaries who were deployed without official status in the CAR. We will however not allow for their memory to be tarnished and used to score political points,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the failure to report on “the genesis of our deployment” to the CAR is complicit on the part of the media.
“To ignore all recorded facts about the African Union peace and stability decisions about the CAR before South Africa’s involvement, choosing simply to project the coffee-table talk of the opposition, is collusion of the highest order in a sinister plot to undermine our policy,” she said.
'Our internal obligation'
Mapisa-Nqakula said that as was the case in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and elsewhere, South Africa’s involvement in the CAR was in pursuance of “our international obligation” to ensure stability and peace on the continent.
“There is no possibility of developmental and economic success for a South Africa that is surrounded in a pool of instability, war and hunger around the continent,” she said.
She said no where in the world has a government ever been asked to bear its security plans so nakedly to the point of compromising our strategic defence capacity.
“We have seen a disturbing trend where members of this House and some remnants of the old order SADF have leaked strategic information about our troop movements and strategic positions, which were widely broadcast in the media … The question we ask is, ‘for whose benefit was this release of information?’ Certainly not for our country as this information puts the lives of our deployed soldiers in danger.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa will continue participating in the multilateral partnerships to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Opposition parties hit back, with the Democratic Alliance’s David Maynier repeating his call for a full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the CAR situation.
Maynier said hard questions had to be asked about why 13 of our soldiers died in a country so strategically insignificant that not one of our 126 ambassadors, and not one of our 39 defence attachés, was even located in the CAR.
“We were told that the deployment was in fulfilment of an international obligation. However, the memorandum of understanding, which the exchange of diplomatic notes, signed on December 31 2012, purported to be extending, had already lapsed on February 11 2007, 10 months previously.”
The exchange of diplomatic notes contained no replying diplomatic note from the CAR, as required for bilateral international agreements.
“This raises very serious questions about whether the bilateral agreement, in terms of which the SANDF were deployed to the CAR, was even valid.
“We were not told the whole truth about the reasons for the deployment of the SANDF to the CAR,” said Maynier.
He said the deployment, no matter how one looked at it, was a monumental defence diplomacy failure because:
- François Bozizé, the former president of the CAR, who South Africa supported, fled the country;
- Michel Djotodia, the Seleka rebel leader, who we opposed, has assumed power in the CAR;
- the CAR’s defence force, who South African troops trained, “turned” and may have been responsible for luring our soldiers into the first ambush which triggered the firefight; and
- military equipment, including weapons, ammunition and vehicles, which we were supposed to be protecting, had to be abandoned in the CAR.
“In the end, South Africa was out-smarted, out-manoeuvred and out-gunned in the CAR. This is why we need a full-scale parliamentary inquiry to investigate the deployment … We need to know how it is that Bozizé, who was a dubious character and an unlikely convert to ‘ubuntu’, the mainstay of our foreign policy, became our most important ‘client’ in the region,” said Maynier.
Congress of the People’s Mlindi Nhanha was even more hard-hitting in his response to the minister.
He first took a jibe on Mapisa-Nqakula saying: “The minister of defence and the South African government should not be expecting us to blow kisses to her or offer her sweets and chocolates for what transpired in CAR recently.”
About three weeks ago, while addressing the parliamentary oversight committee on defence and military veterans, Mapisa-Nqakula asked in response to a question about whether SANDF troops killed child soldiers as had been reported: "If a child points a gun at you, are you going to give [the chld] a sweet and blow kisses?”
Nhanha got heavy: “Minister, it would seem when the story of President [Jacob] Zuma and his disastrous leadership are being told to the future generations, the good name of your family will continue to be mentioned in the same sentences alongside his blunders.
“You do not need to be reminded that it was under your watch as the minister of correctional services that convicted fraudster Schabir Schaik was released on frivolous parole. And now again, it is under your watch South Africa has lost 13 soldiers, with many more injured for life in the CAR debacle … And now we are venturing into M23 rebel-land, the DRC – this time there are no child soldiers – oh help us God!” said Nhanha.
The deployment, was at its very best, shockingly planned, said the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Albert Mncwango.
“There were numerous oversights, many of which could have directly or indirectly played roles in the death of our soldiers,” he said.
“We want to know the truth about why our soldiers were sent to the Central African Republic. Was it because they were protecting certain South African mineral rights and business interests? Was it to provide a private security force for president Bozizé or to provide specialist military training as the MOU states or all of the above?”
General Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement said Mapisa-Nqakula would have given better answers had she demanded an operational report from her commanders, suggesting this did not happen.
Holomisa said the existence of the operational report would have given specifics on details about the people who failed the South African troops in the CAR and in the process disgraced the country.
“This report is important if we are to avoid making similar mistakes in future and to ensure that we take punitive steps against those who did not carry out orders,” he said.