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Pretoria - No South African soldiers were critically wounded during clashes with rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
“Three of our soldiers have been injured in the conflict since the weekend, largely from shrapnel wounds. None have been seriously wounded,” Zuma told reporters at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
“Our soldiers are well-trained and are ready for their responsibilities towards building a better and more peaceful Africa. South Africa has deployed troops in fulfilment of our international obligations towards the United Nations.”
Zuma said the three members of the SA National Defence Force were wounded by “splinters” from firing aimed at the DRC army.
“The rebels were attacking the DRC army and it is the DRC army that is fighting. All the injuries I talked about are the splinters that come from the fire from the rebels,” he said.
“Our soldiers have not yet engaged (the rebels), there has been no such command. The DRC forces have been engaging. The Tanzanian and South African part of the (intervention) force have not yet engaged, they are behind, supporting the DRC forces.”
On Wednesday, SANDF spokesman Brig-Gen Xolani Mabanga said reports that South African troops were seriously wounded or killed should be dismissed as propaganda.
“This is just mere propaganda and psychological warfare from the rebel forces who want to portray their so-called success against the DRC government troops,” he said in a statement.
Mabanga said there were clashes between the M23 rebels and the armed forces of the DRC on Saturday.
“During these clashes it happened that a mortar bomb fell close to the base where the SANDF members and Tanzanian People's Defence Force (TPDF) members, part of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), are located,” said Mabanga.
“The FIB members suffered minor injuries from shrapnel or splinters from the bombs, causing minor injuries to one SANDF member and two TPDF members.”
Mabanga said the SANDF intended holding a media briefing to update the public about its participation in the FIB.
Last week, Zuma informed Parliament that 1345 soldiers had been deployed to the DRC.
The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) said it wished the wounded a speedy recovery.
“To those fighting M23 rebels, godspeed and good luck, your bravery is an inspiration to us all,” said national secretary Pikkie Greeff.
Soldiers had raised concerns that they were promised Gripens and Rooivalks when they left, but that the aircraft had not yet arrived in the DRC, he said.