SANDF on DRC deployment: No repeat of CAR massacre

Three South African soldiers were injured while fighting alongside Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) soldiers against the rebellion led by M23 in Goma and surrounding areas when the rebels attacked with mortar fire closer to the South African base.

Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said at a media briefing in Pretoria on Friday: "Whoever fires at South African soldiers, [the soldiers] will engage because this is what they are trained to do as part of their survival. We are taking this intervention very seriously."

South Africa is part of the Southern African Development Community backed Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) under the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Congo (Monusco). So far 10 soldiers have been injured, with one fatality, a Tanzanian. The six other soldiers are also Tanzanian.

Mgwebi denied allegations that South African snipers killed six senior rebel officers. "If there are snipers on the ground, they are not ours, only the UN can confirm who they are," said Mgwebi. But, he confirmed that if the United Nations is willing to re-imburse South Africa, the SANDF is ready to deploy more resources to ensure a speedy resolution to the attack.

Mgwebi stressed that the mission is not of an offensive nature, but rather that of peacekeeping until a political solution has been found. "The UN is sending a message to the rebels that they will not take over Goma again," he said.

The intervention brigade is permitted to use force to neutralise rebels that have been fighting DRC President Joseph Kabila's government since last year.

SA Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has warned that if peace and stability in the DRC is not secured, this distraction may spill over into the region.

Following the injuries to the three South African soldiers there was panic that there might be a repeat of the Central African Republic (CAR) incident in Bangui where 14 South African soldiers were killed. However, Mgwebi insisted that the tragedy will not be repeated because sufficient resources have been provided and more is on standby.

Speaking on the allegations the Rwandan troops have been backing the M23, Mgwebi referred the matter to the UN. Rwanda has denied the allegation.

Meanwhile, the DA has accussed Jerome Maake, Chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, has failed to reply to three separate requests for a special hearing on the SANDF deployment in the DRC.

According to David Maynier, spokesperson for defence and military veterans, "The SANDF will be taking part in a high-risk mission where there is, not only a serious risk of casualties, but also a serious risk of being sucked into a regional war, fighting rebel groups supported by regional powers, such as Rwanda."

Maynier said that it is imperative that General Solly Shoke, chief of the SANDF, provide a detailed briefing to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on the SANDF deployment in the DRC. Parliament must be absolutely sure that the SANDF are properly trained, equipped and supported for the mission in the DRC. We cannot afford another military disaster in the DRC.

The DA has warned if Maake does not respond by close of business on Tuesday they will take the matter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu. Parliament must not be allowed to fail the SANDF soldiers who have been deployed to the DRC.

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