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The failure by “greedy” defence contractors to provide air support may have put the lives of SANDF soldiers in even more danger in the country’s doomed Central African Republic (CAR) mission, where 14 soldiers were killed.
This emerged in a letter written by Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant-General Derrick Mgwebi, who, soon after the mission, called for an investigation into how civilian contractors jeopardised the lives of SANDF soldiers.
Mgwebi also wants to know how it is possible that a chartered aircraft met operational requirements a week late, “putting soldiers even more at risk”. He ordered a probe to find out how the Department of Defence was overcharged by R8 million in one contract.
In his letter, seen by The Star, Mgwebi said the director of joint support appointed someone to manage requests for the chartering of aircraft. He said the officer appointed to oversee the request liaised with the Central Procurement Service Centre, “who confirmed during the early hours of March 24 that not one of the five registered companies was in a position to meet the operational requirement.
“Lieutenant-Colonel (Willie) Damon reported the non-availability of aircraft by the five companies to Director Operations and Support, who called the chief of logistics to obtain the SANDF and (secretary of defence’s) guidelines in addressing the matter,” wrote Mgwebi.
He said one of the companies was not in a position to take the operationally needed equipment to Entebbe, Uganda, on the night of March 25, and did so only six days later.
“During the week, all SANDF troops were moved from the base to the airport while the fight with the Seleka rebels continued. Most of our troops feared for their lives, even while they were next to the runway. A civilian company was greedy enough to tender for the job (but) could not deliver against the operational target date,” said Mgwebi.
As a result of this, Mgwebi requested the chief of logistics to launch an investigation.
One of the investigation’s requests was to “confirm that civilian contractors will not jeopardise operations in the future”.
SANDF spokesman Xolani Mabanga could not be reached for comment on Thursday to find out how far the investigation has progressed.