Showdown: Battle of Bangui authors head to court for access to deployment reports

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  • The authors of Battle of Bangui are preparing for a court battle to compel the defence minister to grant access to deployment reports.
  • Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula "partially complied" with a court order to give reasons why their PAIA request was denied.
  • The defence department said the matter was "under litigation, so it would be difficult to comment".

The authors of Battle of Bangui are preparing for a showdown in court as they prepare an application to compel the minister of defence and military veterans to hand over two deployment reports.

They maintain the government "should be held to account for the avoidable loss of South African lives".

"Access to the reports is important because, if undertaken correctly, they should critically examine the reasons for the deployment that saw South Africa run to the defence of an unpopular despot, the former Central African Republic (CAR) president, Francois Bozize," authors Warren Thompson, Stephan Hofstatter and James Oatway said in a statement.

"Further, it should provide the public with the SANDF's own account of why things went so horribly wrong, and who among their ranks, including the commander-in-chief, should be held responsible for why our men were under-equipped, abandoned, and left to die on the streets of a country of no strategic value or importance to South Africa's security."

The writers are preparing for a court battle to compel the defence minister to grant access to the reports, which they say "led to the country's worst military scandal in the democratic era".

It follows the receipt of a letter from Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, which "partially complied" with a court order handed down by Judge Mokgoatji Dolamo in December last year.

Thompson had approached the court to compel the minister to furnish adequate reasons for the refusal of providing access to the findings of two investigations, or boards of inquiry, undertaken by the SANDF, after the battle. It was to establish how 15 South African soldiers "came to lose their lives and the circumstances under which the loss of military hardware and munition occurred".

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According to court papers, in addition to the probe as to how the battle had unfolded, it would also, among others, "critically examine the precise reasons why South African troops were sent to the CAR in the first place", reconcile alleged contradictions since the deployment, the execution of the battle, extraction and the "suppression of a full-scale investigation by Parliament".

The information has been sought in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), through the information officer of the ministry of defence and military veterans.

The information officer refused the request because it would "involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information of third parties, including deceased individuals".

Thompson appealed and, when no response was received, his attorneys demanded a written formal notification of the decision, the required adequate reasons for the decision, and the provisions of the PAIA on which the minister relied.

The minister refused the internal appeal, based on the same reason initially given.

The Battle of Bangui (Supplied)
The Battle of Bangui (Supplied)

Maintaining that no adequate reasons had been provided, Thompson's lawyers requested the names and contact details of the third parties, so that they could be joined to a contemplated court action.

No response was received and the matter headed to court.

According to the respondents, there was "nothing more that needs to be said" regarding the third party information and that the reason given for the refusal was "adequate".

Dolamo found that, following the internal appeal, the email sent "purporting to be in compliance" had fallen "woefully short of what is required" as it had to provide adequate reasons for the decision and the provisions of PAIA relied upon.

"The minister complied only with the second requirement by declaring that she was relying on section 34 (1) of PAIA. No reasons, let alone adequate reasons, were given why access was refused."

The minister, who was ordered to pay the costs of the application, was instructed to provide reasons for the dismissal of the appeal and to provide a copy of the application to all other parties affected by the refusal of Thompson's application.

Thompson confirmed that they received a letter from Mapisa-Nqakula, which partially complied with the court order.

He would not divulge its contents, saying their legal team had advised against it at this stage as "it will likely form the subject matter of future litigation".

According to the authors, the families of the men, who died in the battle, "deserve to know why their loved ones were deployed, so they, too, can get closure - and, where necessary, justice".

Defence department spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said the matter was "under litigation, so it would be difficult to comment".

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