“South Africa has a bilateral agreement with the Central African Republic (CAR) according to which we were deployed to train soldiers, build their capacity and ensure peace and stability in that country.” This is how SA Army chief, Lt.-Gen. V.R Masondo, summed up reasons for the presence of South African soldiers in the CAR. The army top man was speaking at a memorial service to honour 13 slain soldiers from the 44 Parachute Regiment who died in fierce fighting in the CAR some three weeks ago. Masondo conceded that it was the first time since the integration of all armed forces into the SA National Defence Force that SA had lost so many soldiers in battle.
He says what was even more painful is that the dead soldiers were youngsters who themselves left behind widows and young children. The army chief, however, did not spare the media for what he described as “negative sentiments” which try to “insinuate that we in the SA Army obeyed an illegal order and therefore the death of the deceased was in vain.” “These negative sentiments show that as a country we have NOT forged a common national identity, because countries all over the world, especially democracies, realise that the defence force is a national asset and at such times (like the CAR tragedy), they rally behind the army,” says Masondo.
Masondo’s strong words came the same day as the minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on defence to explain what SA soldiers were doing in the CAR at the time of their demise.
But Masondo was more direct in his reason and rationale. “South Africa cannot be an island of stability in a sea of instability,” he said, adding that SA was part of the African community on whose own stability this country itself depended. Meanwhile, Major Jiyana, commander of the dead soldiers, said: “It will take years and years to fill the void left by the dead soldiers,” describing them as “brave men.”
Free State (FS) Premier, Ace Magashule, and his Safety and Security MEC, Butana Khompela, lit candles in memory of the soldiers, seven of whom are reportedly originally from Bloemfontein.
Magashule said the FS was part of SA and consoled families of the deceased soldiers who also attended last week’s memorial service at the Tempe Church on the military base.