SANDF denies it helped DRC’s Kabila cling to power

2011-12-14 14:24

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has denied allegations that it had helped president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila, cling to power.

For the past few weeks, supporters of the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), led by veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, have been alleging that the South African government had assisted Kabila to rig the vote and even sent its soldiers to control elections.

The SANDF was roped in by the DRC’s electoral commission, CENI, to assist with logistics for the elections, including transporting ballot papers from Johannesburg to different parts of the DRC.

Chief of Joint Operations at the SANDF Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi said the South African military would not interfere in any country’s elections.

“The SANDF understands democracy. We know that we don’t play into politics. We would not have participated in any means of favouring anyone.”

Tshisekedi’s supporters used the fact that ballots were printed in South Africa to back their claims that the government had assisted Kabila to rig the votes. South African IT billionaire Robert Gumede’s Four Rivers Trading was awarded a tender to print the ballot papers.

Tshisekedi has since refused to accept the election results, which puts him second to Kabila. He instead declared himself president.

UDPS supporters have been protesting for almost two weeks in the DRC complaining about suspected vote rigging. Here in South Africa, opposition supporters convened under the Forum of Congolese Organisations in SA and the Congolese Group of Combatants and protested outside the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg as well as other big cities.

They allege that the government helped Kabila rig the vote by sending extra ballot papers that were already marked to benefit the re-elected president.

Mgwebi said none of the ballots the SANDF transported was tampered with.

“Each aircraft had two to three SANDF members to ensure that it doesn’t deviate and the ballots remain sealed. Once we had landed in Congo, our responsibility was to make sure that we hand the ballot papers to the independent electoral commission members and it was out of our hands,” Mgwebi said.

Gumede’s spokesperson said the purported ballot papers floating in Johannesburg could have been “sample ballot papers”.

Efforts to get hold of CENI were unsuccessful.

This was the DRC’s biggest election to date, with 32 million registered voters, 64 000 voting stations and a record 18 000 candidates for the 500 National Assembly seats.

Some international observers, including the Carter Center from America, said the DRC elections lacked credibility.

Kabila also admitted mistakes were made.

But the United Nations stabilisation mission in Congo, Monusco, said elections were credible despite irregularities.

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