Death in the CAR...

2013-03-26 08:42

"Humiliating": that's the word Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula chose to describe the killing of SANDF members in the Central African Republic. One definition of the word states: "Make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, esp. publicly."

Is that what our soldiers experienced, having been deployed to another country to train other soldiers and the finding themselves involved in armed conflict? Or was the minister expressing her own personal feelings as the political head responsible for the soldiers?

Of course, Mapisa-Nqakula, hardly an inspiration in any of her previous portfolios, could use the argument that English is but her 7th or 8th language...

However, when I heard her on SAfm this morning she sounded pretty self-assured – a word defined as “having or showing confidence and poise”; with “poise” meaning “freedom from affectation or embarrassment” and indicating “composure”.

There were other linguistic blunders, too – not unless, as we say in South Africanlish, that is actually how Mapisa-Nqakula intended it to be understood by others. The Minister confirmed that South Africa was warned by the now ousted CAR President Francois Bozize – just last Friday when he came to speak to President Jacob Zuma – of the rebels planning to depose him.

But, to paraphrase the minister, these guys come here all the time, telling us that they are facing a crisis back home and that there are forces wanting to get rid of them. In the end, you wouldn’t know what and who to believe, or something to that extent. And she couldn’t even remember exactly what the visiting head of state said…

Now it makes one wonder that if this is how the Government feel about “these guys”, or African leaders under attack, why did we in the first instance agree, initially in 2007, to assist the CAR army with training as part of a bilateral agreement?

On top of it, did we even consider, back then, the fact that Bozize himself came to power in a rebellion a decade ago?

Still, there they are, our beloved soldiers, honouring South Africa’s commitment to CAR to train their soldiers and then finding themselves attacked by Bozize’s enemies who have questioned his commitment to past peace deals and accusing South Africa of being “mercenaries”.

Zuma informed us that our troops “fought a high-tempo battle for nine hours defending the South African military base, until the bandits raised a white flag and asked for a cease-fire” and that our soldiers “inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandit forces”. (Casualty numbers unknown.) That may sound like just a tad of bravery, considering that we also know, through comments by SA’s military chief General Solly Shoke, that our 200 men were up against a rebel force of 3 000 – armed with mortars and heavy machine guns.

Most of the fighting happened on Saturday (before, early Sunday, the rebels contacted the SA forces for what Shoke called an “uneasy truce”). So here are a few questions to contemplate, trusting that it doesn’t sound insensitive towards the dead and their relatives:

Question 1: Was it not partly due to “weekend blues” that our troops seem not to have been able to pre-empt the attack? Question 2: Were we so naïve as to think that we would not get caught up in the fighting when we were there to train other soldiers? Question 3: And if that was the case, what does it say about our own abilities as presumably Africa’s strongest defence force?

Perhaps it was her inability to respond to these critical questions that made Mapisa-Nqakula reach for a self-inflecting response to the CAR ordeal when she said on radio: “It was humiliating”.

Heindrich Wyngaard works as Media Manager at Stellenbosch University’s Business School (USB). In his spare time he is a blogger, columnist and independent news commentator.

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