South African National Defence Force troops were sent to Burundi to keep the peace - but it seems the poor management of equipment and the theft of South African weapons that land in rebel hands is fuelling the conflict.
Sources have confirmed that millions of rands worth of vehicles, guns, ammunition and bombs, and supplies worth over R27-million have vanished from the South African army base in Burundi over the last four years.
The missing vehicles are believed to include several Casspirs; a Mazda ambulance; Isuzu bakkies; one firefighting truck; Landrover Defenders; trucks; a water tanker; a Yamaha motorcycle; forklift trucks; Toyota Condor vans; several cars; a tractor; and a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
The Star has also established that among the weapons missing are 40 mortar bombs; 54 R-4 rifles; four R-5 rifles; a sniper rifle; two 12-gauge shotguns; eight machineguns; eight pistols; and 27 grenade launchers.
A 15 KVA generator is also understood to be missing.
While army authorities have previously blamed poor accounting practices for the losses, an investigation by The Star has found that on one occasion at least 50 missing SANDF mortar bombs - out of 80 bombs stolen using an army-owned Land-Rover - were found in a FNL Phalipe-Hutu rebel group camp in Kiriri, Burundi.
The FNL has been blamed for a series of mortar attacks on the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, in which at least 300 people are known to have died.
The Star has also learnt that a case of ammunition - part of a total 1,5-million SANDF-owned rounds that went missing in Burundi - was found in the possession of Burundian government forces in 2004.
As yet, the SANDF has failed to reveal how many millions of rands worth of weapons, vehicles and supplies it has lost to theft or mismanagement. Disturbingly, it seems the SANDF has no idea how many weapons are in its possession.
Now, following a scathing Auditor-General's report into the Department of Defence's "inadequate" and "deficient" accounting practices, the Democratic Alliance was due to ask the Defence Ministry in parliament today to address claims that about 70 army vehicles, over 110 weapons and items of equipment, and millions of rands worth of supplies have disappeared from the South African base in Burundi.
Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, who has admitted that addressing the logistics crisis in the department was one of its main challenges, last month revealed to parliament that the following pieces of weaponry "have both been lost and stolen on peace support missions":
- 47 680 x 5.56mm rifle rounds
- 1 800 x 7.62mm rifle rounds
- 97 x 60mm mortar bombs
- 46 x 5.56 mm R-4 rifles
- Three light machine-guns, two 9mm pistols, two grenades and four R-4 magazines.
Lekota stressed that the SANDF staff were instructed to safeguard arms and ammunition, and rectify any "deficiencies" they noticed in such security arrangements.
But, according to Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, there was no evidence that cases of losses or damages to army property were followed up on a regular basis.
"In certain instances, cases are not reported or actions taken to recover losses from members."
To make matters worse, Fakie said, various files pertaining to losses were not submitted to the Auditor-General and loss and damage registers were not properly maintained.
"Critical information was omitted and was not regularly checked by management to ensure accuracy and completeness," Fakie said.
This year, for the first time, the department's financial statements did not disclose just how much the loss of its property was costing taxpayers.
In its 2004/2005 report, the department's financial statements totalled the cost of the loss of defence property at over R48,7-million.
This year's financial statements also failed to provide any financial value for the SANDF's weapon and ammunitions inventory, effectively indicating that the Department of Defence has no idea how many weapons are in its possession.
Worryingly, the report did, however, note that the department's "unauthorised expenditure awaiting authorisation" amounted to over R495-million.
Fakie, who hit the Defence Department with a qualified audit for the fifth year in a row, slammed the SANDF for the following:
- Inadequate control over the "general administration of demands".
- Deficient controls over the issue and receipt of vouchers.
- "Internal controls over the security and general administration of vehicles, weapons and ammunition were found to be deficient."
- Storage facilities were found to be deficient in that inventory and assets were not stored under prescribed and ideal conditions. This could result in the state incurring material losses," said Fakie, in apparent reference to reports that the SANDF located an ammunition dump 800m from Bujumbura airport and within 600m of two large fuel tanks.
- Stocktakes were not performed at all units/General Support Bases during the year and the stock-taking certificates received from certain units were found to be of "doubtful accuracy".
Referring specifically to SANDF operations abroad, Fakie reiterated that control over the shipping of assets to foreign destinations was weak.
Fakie added: "As a result of the lack of controls and proper documentation, certain inventory and assets were shipped to incorrect destinations."
Approached for comment on the steps taken to address the apparent crisis in Burundi, the Department of Defence indicated it would be able to comment only later this week, "after conducting the proper research".
The department also declined to comment on the suspension last week of a senior logistics officer.
Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson Roy Jankielsohn told The Star that any losses in the army suffered "due to poor management and theft are a direct result of inaction on the part of the minister (Lekota) and senior SANDF management".
He added: "The loss of ammunition, weapons and other equipment that can be used by forces within these countries poses a huge danger to SA troops and the civilian population, and will only further destabilise already volatile areas."