President Jacob Zuma has warned against discussing South Africa’s military operations in public because doing so could endanger the lives of soldiers still deployed in Africa.
Addressing the memorial service of the 13 soldiers who died in an ambush in the Central African Republic (CAR), Zuma said South Africa should not be expected to discuss military operations.
He lamented the fact that the South African government was expected to give details of the deployment because some, including the media, had insinuated there was more to the deployment than a training agreement signed between the South African and CAR governments in 2007.
Without mentioning names, Zuma lambasted those who, he said, “dishonoured” the men who had died as “heroes”.
“No country discusses its military strategy in public in the manner in which South Africa is expected to do in this country.
“Those who are engaging in this game should be careful not to endanger both the national interest and the security of the Republic while pursuing party political goals,” said Zuma.
He appealed for the public and the media to honour the dead and give them the respect they deserve.
“Unfortunately, there are those who have decided to use this period of mourning to try and dishonour the memory of our heroes by peddling various unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories.
“There has been a deliberate attempt to cast doubt and distort the purpose of Operation Vimbezela, our mission in the CAR.
“We will not be sidetracked by those who are on a perpetual campaign against this democratic government,” said Zuma.
He rejected reports that soldiers had in fact been deployed to protect the business interests in the CAR of some politically connected individuals.
“Let me emphasise that we reject any insinuation that these soldiers were sent to the CAR for any reason other than in pursuit of the national interest and the interests of the African continent.
“Our national servicemen died for a worthy cause. They died in defence of the country’s foreign policy.
“They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent, and to the promotion of peace and stability which would lead to sustainable development in Africa,” said Zuma.
He took a swipe at political parties, and the media, for not allowing the ANC-led government to do its job.
“The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country. Government must be given the space to do its work of running the country to implement the policies of the ruling party that was voted into office by millions of our people.
“There must also be an appreciation that military matters and decisions are not matters that are discussed in public, other than to share broader policy,” Zuma said.
In addition to hundreds of soldiers, political party members and ministers who attended the memorial service included Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Major Jiyane (first name unknown), who led the team that was ambushed in the CAR and survived, remembered the men as heroes.
‘The crack of AK47s shaped their characters’
“They (soldiers) fought ferociously like lions when the firefight broke out. The crack of the AK47s shaped their characters,” said Jiyane, adding that the soldiers stopped the advance of rebels into the Bangui capital, which was eventually captured after nine hours of battle.
He described how, it seemed, the only way the other soldiers had survived was because “St Michael was hovering above us”.
Jiyane said they survived despite the ambush, which he described as “one of the deadliest scenarios in the military craft”.
Read: ‘We ran out of ammo’
A spokesperson for the families of the dead, Thembisile Jilimba, thanked the defence force for the professional support afforded to them, including counsellors and chaplains.
Earlier, Brigadier General Andrew Jamangile, SANDF chaplain-general, appealed to political parties not to turn the memorial service into a “political platform”.
He expressed sadness that members of the SANDF had been publicly humiliated in various reports and urged the public and the media to give families space to mourn.