Johannesburg - The deployment of South African troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) is a “scandal” that may “dwarf” any of President Jacobs Zuma’s past indiscretions. It could make his position as Commander in Chief of the armed forces untenable, DA leader Helen Zille has said as her party prepares to table a motion to force a complete withdrawal of all South African troop from the war-torn country.
This came as Zuma announced he will be attending Tuesday’s memorial service for the 13 soldiers killed on duty in the CAR.
SANDF spokesman Xolani Mabanga said travel and accommodation arrangements were being made to enable all the families of the fallen soldiers to attend the service to be held at Swartkops Air Force Base in Pretoria.
On Monday, the defence force confirmed that 10 of the 27 soldiers injured when rebels attacked the South African soldiers in the CAR were still being treated at 1 Military hospital in Pretoria.
“They have not been discharged yet, but they are in a stable condition,” said Mabanga.
Zille’s statement follows a week of outrage and a “shroud of secrecy” after the 13 South African soldiers were killed and scores of others injured in the CAR.
After the fatal gunfight in Bangui, media reports about the ANC’s interests in the country started coming to light.
The Mail & Guardian reported that certain ANC-linked companies had business interests in the CAR’s vast mineral resources.
It is unclear how many troops have remained in the CAR, something DA defence spokesman David Maynier blames on the “communication blackout” from the SANDF.
Weekend reports said the South African troops were gathering in neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to re-engage with the CAR rebels.
Zille said if the reports of shareholding by the ANC “front company” Chancellor House were true
“this is a scandal that could dwarf all the other scandals. If that were the case, you have a president who’s employing troops to defend a political party’s business interests, the business interests of individuals connected to the political party on foreign soil, in co-operation with a dictator…
“So the ANC, if this is true, has enormous interests to protect and has every interest in being involved in a profound cover-up because its fundraising arm may well have been benefiting hugely…”
Zille said the only reason the South African public found out was “because troops died”. What made the tragedy more difficult to accept was the “mounting evidence that there was no valid reason to deploy the SANDF to the Central African Republic in the first place”.
“It appears the reasons given by President Zuma’s spokesman, Mr Mac Maharaj, that the soldiers would ‘assist with the capacity building of the CAR defence force and assist (the) CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes’, may not have been consistent with the facts.”
Zille called for the troops to be withdrawn immediately. “The DA will table an urgent parliamentary resolution… to compel the president to bring our troops back home.”
Zille said the latest reports were that South African troops were involved in direct combat with the Seleka rebels, including young children, as well as President François Bozize’s own “mutinous” soldiers.
“The conclusion is inescapable that the South African troops were deployed to defend the faltering and dictatorial Bozize regime.
“What makes this intervention even more disturbing is that the deployment was reportedly undertaken against expert military advice, allegedly to protect the business interests of a politically connected elite in South Africa and in the Central African Republic.
“If this is so, President Zuma’s position as president and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, becomes untenable.”
But ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu described it as a “damaging and malicious claim” that South African soldiers were sent to the CAR to protect ANC business interests. “This accusation is calculated to sow distrust in noble decisions of the government…
“We want to put it on record that the ANC as an organisation does not have business interests in (the) CAR. The deployment of soldiers in (the) CAR was a government decision deriving from our foreign policy, endorsed by the AU and the UN.
“Most disturbing with the accusation are the blatant lies that suggest a company linked to the ANC has business interests in CAR. We’ve established the said company has no business activity in (the) CAR.”
Meanwhile, spokesman for the ANC Chief Whip's office, Moloto Mothapo, said that the joint standing committee on defence would meet on Thursday to consider the developments in CAR. The DA could raise its proposal at the meeting.
"In terms of the Constitution, Parliament can request the withdrawal of troops from international obligation only after a recommendation to the Houses of Parliament has been made by the joint committee on defence," Mothapo said in a statement.
Any recommendations the committee made could only be dealt with by the Houses of Parliament individually for a decision. According to parliamentary rules decisions cannot be made in joint sittings, he said.
Mothapo said the ANC reiterated its support in Parliament for the troop deployment.
"On January 7, 2013, in a letter addressed to the Speaker of the National Assembly, the President duly informed Parliament of the deployment of troops in CAR as required by the Constitution," he said.
"The letter was subsequently tabled and referred to the joint standing committee on defence as required under parliamentary rules and procedures."
He accused the DA failing to familiarise itself with the rules.
"The DA's attempt to bypass these rules illustrates that it is more interested in publicity rather than reinforcing and building our democracy through a proper parliamentary oversight," Mothapo said.
"We would like to emphasise that our presence in the CAR is based on a decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council taken in 2005 and reaffirmed in 2006."
Pretoria News, Sapa