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Johannesburg - If SANDF officials had paid attention, a troubled rifleman might not have killed himself at the Lenz military base two years ago.
Rifleman MM Mkhwanazi, of 21 SA Infantry Battalion, committed suicide at the Lenz base in 2011.
A SANDF board of inquiry found that while nobody could be held accountable for his death, the military should have done more to help him.
“Private Mkhwanazi was left to his own mercy by 21 SAI Bn that should have acted much earlier to address this challenge. 21 SAI Bn neglected its duty towards Private Mkhwanazi, and if they had paid attention by taking him to hospital and ensuring that he took his medication and attended appointments at 1 Mil, he could still be alive,” said the board in its findings.
The board recommended that the SA Army “should do contingency planning to minimise damage” if Mkhwanazi’s family decided to sue the SANDF.
“Private Mkhwanazi had a psychotic problem that could be treated or kept in check if he took his medication. Private Mkhwanazi was mentally disturbed and feared by everybody due to beliefs that he practised witchcraft,” said the board.
His colleagues avoided him and the military failed to keep track of where he lived on the base, so it was some time before his body was found.
“Troops are living in appalling conditions,” the board added. Health and safety risks were “numerous and not addressed”.
There was no control over equipment at the base.
“Troops living at Lenz do not wear uniform and also do not do any constructive work,” said the board.
The details of the board’s findings are in a reply released to Parliament this week by Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, following a question by DA MP David Maynier about boards of inquiry convened since January 2009.
Mapisa-Nqakula listed 32 inquiries, with 20 finalised.
Two inquiries arising from Operation Vimbezela in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, are still in process - one looking into the deaths of the troops and the other into the loss of SANDF vehicles and weapons.
Last year, an inquiry looked into the deaths of 13 soldiers in different incidents over several years at the South African Infantry School in Oudtshoorn.
“The board found that no one could be held liable for the deaths or incidents that occurred at the Infantry School,” said the findings.
Three recruits killed themselves - one by hanging himself and two by shooting themselves.
A lance corporal died in a military vehicle accident during training, another lance corporal died in hospital after collapsing, a corporal died “from an accidental shot fired during crowd-control training”, one died “from hypothermia during a river-crossing training”, one recruit died from pneumonia, one recruit “died in his sleep”, a rifleman died from a heart attack, a recruit died in hospital “due to medical complications”, a staff sergeant died from severe coronary artery disease, and a recruit died from “natural causes - intra-cranial pressure”.