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Sake - Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula praised the courage, commitment, professionalism and discipline of South Africa’s soldiers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during an unannounced tour of the battlefield there on Thursday.
She was speaking from Sake, the main base of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) - including over 1 300 South African troops, plus Tanzanians and Malawians - which has helped the DRC army turn the tide in the war against M23 rebels over the past few weeks.
Sake is just west of the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, which M23 overran a year ago, as the DRC army retreated and soldiers of the UN’s peacekeeping force Monusco could only look on helplessly, with no mandate to stop them.
But since the FIB - with a tougher mandate to take on the M23 and other armed “negative forces” - was deployed alongside the DRC army a few months ago, the M23 has been on the retreat.
Over the past week particularly, the rebels have abandoned most of their positions and many of their leaders are believed to have fled to Rwanda, which is widely suspected of supporting the rebel movement, formed by its fellow ethnic Tutsis.
Mapisa-Nqakula also visited Lake View, headquarters of the SA National Defence Force’s engineers’ squadron and toured the battlefield further north around Kiwanji, which the M23 recently abandoned. She was also taken to the spot where a Tanzanian FIB soldier was recently shot dead by the M23.
The minister, who had flown to Goma from Kinshasa after participating in President Jacob Zuma’s state visit, said in a phone interview Sake was the base from which FIB troops deployed to the front line.
“The most important thing is that I found the soldiers to be very happy. Their morale is very high. These are very committed, very brave young men and women.”
She said she had come to check on the welfare and conditions of the troops and how they were being received by the locals.
“I’m very happy. When local people see South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops, they wave because of their values, their ability to push back the negative forces.
“I’m proud of our soldiers. We have a group of people whose conduct is unquestionable.
“There has been no case of indiscipline. This is a very professional group of young people. Some of them are out of the country for the first time and already they’ve had combat experience.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said South African troops had not yet come under fire or experienced close combat, as the DRC troops had been on the front line.
“It’s good for South Africa that we have people in the field in this robust kind of intervention. It will go a long way to strengthen the SANDF that we have soldiers who have had this experience of warfare.” - The Argus