SA to continue sending troops

2013-04-07 10:00

South African deployment of troops to other African countries is set to continue because it is in line with government’s foreign policy.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told City Press: “South Africa will continue participating in efforts that support the creation of peace, stability and prosperity on the continent because we believe that our own people stand to benefit from a stable continent.”

The SA National Defence Force suffered a setback when it was forced to withdraw from the Central African Republic (CAR) after 13 of its soldiers were killed in a surprise battle there last month, which prompted questions over what our forces were doing there in the first place.

The defence force is also preparing to deploy troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a UN Security Council intervention brigade “to address imminent threats to peace and security”. The intervention was authorised on March 28.

Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa’s national interest “is not simply based on what we can extract from another country for the sole benefit of South Africa. It is based on the cooperation of nations to build a better continent and a better world for the mutual benefit of all.”

She said these objectives “informed our involvement in the CAR, the same as in Burundi, Sudan, the Comoros and the DRC”.

She said South Africa’s foreign policy was informed by “diplomacy of ubuntu”, which meant that the country should care about the security of people in other countries too.

But Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota, who was defence minister when the original memorandum of understanding with the CAR was signed in 2007, has questioned the renewal of the memorandum.

He said the December 2012 agreement was a departure from the terms of the previous one, as it now included demilitarisation, disarmament and reintegration.

“There were 28 or so troops, and we could not have had large quantities of weapons for training VIP (protectors) and other people (as per the original agreement). You could not have needed 400 troops to protect that quantity of weapons. If you train VIP (protectors), you have the most basic equipment.”

He said he found it odd that the new agreement included disarmament and demilitarisation as no peace accord existed in the CAR.

“There is no evidence that those people were willing to be disarmed. To disarm them, you need to go to war. When did South Africa agree to go to war in order to disarm them?” he asked.

Lekota also questioned whether the government was within its rights to send additional weapons to the CAR, which led to the killing of that country’s citizens by South African forces, without endorsement from the African Union (AU) and UN.

Lindiwe Zulu, President Jacob Zuma’s adviser on international affairs, insisted that South Africa was in the CAR both on a bilateral and multilateral basis.

She said that while the CAR situation had come up for discussion at the AU, there was no way the continental body could dictate the nature of bilateral relations between countries.

That is why South Africa did not need to answer to the Economic Community of Central African States summit in Chad this week on why it was in the CAR.

South Africa’s approach to the situation in that country was not from a “narrow military” perspective, she said.

The country was also helping to build democratic institutions, as it had done in the DRC. There had even been talks on “establishing a proper embassy” in Bangui.

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