A hell of an experience

2009-10-03 00:00

THE African Union’s creation of a rapid intervention force to boost peacekeeping efforts in the SADC region and the continent presented a rare opportunity for two eager Pietermaritzburg police officers to join the brigade.

Inspector Thinus Joubert and Inspector Karel Nelson of the Plessislaer police station’s mounted unit recently spent weeks in gruelling training, participating in an exercise to test the SADC force’s abilities to conduct a peacekeeping mission in accordance with the requirements set out for the AU Standby Force.

Dubbed Golfhino, the peace support operation was held in the Northern Cape at the SA Army Combat Training Centre at Lohatla in September.

“Golfinho is a Portugese word for dolphin, chosen because the dolphin is a mammal that comes to others’ aid, which is the purpose of the brigade,” said Nelson.

“It was one hell of an experience. I thought I was volunteering for a cosy job, but I got a shock of my life. It was a real war-zone scenario. We had to eat out of cans, sleep on a stretcher and live out of our bags,” said Joubert.

Nelson said the training simulated a conflict in an imaginary country where the SADC brigade was deployed to restore peace.

“The army moves in to stabilise the situation and then the police come in to do normal policing,” he said “We patrolled between 700 to 800 kilometres within a 15-hour shift, from 7 am to 1 am the next morning,” added Joubert. Both officers agreed that their “biggest challenge during the exercise was the language barrier”.

Joubert and Nelson agreed that being part of such an important mission was a privilege. “I joined the police force because I like to serve and protect vulnerable people, and being part of the standby brigade is an extension of my services to the whole continent,” said Joubert.

Police officers who are members of the SADC force wear the SA flag on their uniform. The SADC troops will be part of a larger African force. “SADC is the first region that has its troops ready and it is the first time the continent has had a force ready for rapid deployment in peacekeeping, humanitarian and natural disaster-relief efforts throughout Africa”.

Nelson and Joubert served in the Darfur, Sudan, peacekeeping mission for six months in 2005 and 2006 respectively, and that experience helped them to qualify for the SADC standby brigade. Another KZN police officer selected is Minky Botha.

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