Calls mount for SANDF to pull deployed soldiers in DRC

There are growing calls for the South African government to bring back members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after yet another death. Picture: Kopano Tlape GCIS

There are growing calls for the South African government to bring back members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after yet another death. Picture: Kopano Tlape GCIS

Published Jul 10, 2024


There are growing calls for the South African government to bring back members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after yet another death.

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed members in February, about seven soldiers have been killed in the DRC.

This is after SANDF this week confirmed that one of its members, deployed in the DRC as part of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), was fatally wounded when a hand grenade exploded close to the sleeping quarters in their base in Beni, in the eastern region of the DRC on Monday.

It is not clear what caused the hand grenade to explode, however, a SANDF Board of Inquiry, including the United Nations officials, will be convened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The name of the deceased will be announced when all processes to bring his mortal remains back home have been concluded and his family has been informed of his passing.

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Angie Motshekga, and other top brass, conveyed their sincere condolences to the family of the deceased and the entire defence family.

Motshekga over the weekend attended the funeral service of the late Captain Lucky Maringa.

Both Captain Maringa and Captain Rebaone Kgopane lost their lives when rebels attacked one of the bases of SADC Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) on June 25.

At the same time, the funeral service of Kgopane took place in Taung, in the North West.

Barely a month ago, the country buried another soldier Sergeant Mbulelo David Ngubane, who also perished under similar circumstances, in the DRC.

The Star asked if there are any plans to ensure safety for the remaining soldiers as the death toll increases, SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said scenario planning continues all the time in any deployment as there are developments and every possibility is taken into account to ensure the protection and capabilities of the mission.

The Star also learned that there are some soldiers who are affected by the war and are even suicidal after witnessing their colleagues die. But Dlamini said he is not aware.

“I can confirm without a shadow of doubt the members receive counselling and social support at all times. There is religious support for members too. Social workers, psychologist, religious support. So you have psychosocial support at hand at all times,” he said.

Ask to remind South Africans why the soldiers are deployed in DRC, Dlamini said: “Like the UN Peacekeeping Mission the SADC mission is to protect and safeguard civilian population. This is a SADC Peacekeeping Mission a decision taken by Regional Leadership of the Region. It is South Africa’s contribution to peace and security in the African continent.”

Ex-shadow minister of defence and independent defence analyst, Kobus Marais, said the country should call back the soldiers immediately.

“They should be called immediately, there are several reasons (i) we do not have the funding to properly support our soldiers with the minimum resources including more funding, more soldiers, logistical support, medical support and importantly the required air support via our Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters. (ii) The conflict in the Eastern DRC holds no threat to our national interests and our national security situation. These are the constitutional requirements for deployment outside our borders. (iii) Our SANDF is falling apart and our defence capabilities are diminishing further by the day. We should concentrate and spend our money to reposition, rebuild and reprioritise our defence missions and budget spending. We must rebuild our prime mission capabilities, eg. SAAF critical aircraft, naval vessels, landward equipment and technological capabilities. The current ones are old, outdated, old technology, all of which put us at a deficit against any aggressor,” said Marais.

He said the lives lost especially since December 2024 with the deployment of soldiers as part of the SAMIDRC is sad and unnecessary to a large extent.

“We have also lost helicopters which exposed our increased vulnerability against especially the increased sophisticated lethal attacks by the M23 rebels. It seems they are using more sophisticated munitions against which we clearly find it more and more difficult to defend ourselves. The M23 rebels, operating from Rwanda, clearly are much different from those we have defeated a number of years ago. The attacks have changed where they are using drones and UAVs for precision guided bombs and even missiles, and where they are targeting our soldiers in their camps which is supposed to be the safest spaces for them,” he said.

Marais said contrary to what Rwanda is denying, the perceptions exist that the M23 rebels are operating with the support from the Rwandan government, their defence force and their international partners.

“The challenge in the eastern DRC is an EAC problem especially as various rebel groups are operating from the territories of a number of the DRC’s EAC neighbours against the DRC defence force and the local communities.

“This is not a SADC and a South African problem and certainly not worth the loss of our soldiers’ lives and our prime mission equipment. None of our national strategic interests or our national security are under threat. Not even the SADC neighbours of the DRC in Angola and Zambia are involved, which should be an indication that no South African threat exists as well,” Marais said.

Regarding suicide claims, Marais said any conflict would hold mental health challenges and any defence force must provide medical health support including mental health consultative support services.

“We use reserve force members who are primary civilians serving in the SANDF and can be more impacted by the exposure to trauma,” he said.

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) spokesperson Pikkie Greeff said the member died after a hand grenade exploded next to his quarters. It is not known yet whether it was enemy borne or negligent friendly detonation.

With regard to the suicide allegations, Greeff said the union urge their members to contact them so they can get them help.

“We are trying to establish whether there is even a SA Military Health Services psychologist as part of deployed contingent. ⁠Any soldier experiencing any kind of problem mentally is urged to contact Sandu for assistance,” Greeff said.

Marais said given that the SANDF is in such a dilapidated state, the budget and resources are so poorly provided, and the land and maritime borders as well as the airspace are poorly protected, the country must make huge changes to the military doctrine and mission objectives.

“We must first protect our own integrity and provide safety to our citizens. We must increase our funding to at least 1% of our GDP (compare to the current 0.7%) and must rejuvenate our defence force to be among the best of its class again. If the Government of National Unity (GNU) will also neglect the defence priorities, the citizens must hold them accountable,” Marais added.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya was contacted for comment, however, he failed to respond by the time of print.