The death of 13 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) is a great loss for South Africa. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time.
What makes this tragedy so difficult to accept is the mounting evidence that there was no valid reason to deploy the South African National Defence Force to the Central African Republic in the first place. Furthermore, it appears that the reasons given by President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson, Mr Mac Maharaj in January that the soldiers would “assist with the capacity building of the CAR defence force and would assist CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes", may not have been consistent with the facts.
Latest reports are that South African troops were involved in direct combat with both the Seleka Rebels, including young children, as well as Bozize’s own mutinous soldiers. The conclusion is inescapable that the South African troops were deployed to defend the faltering and dictatorial Bozize regime.
What makes this intervention even more disturbing is that the deployment was reportedly undertaken against expert military advice, allegedly to protect the business interests of a politically connected elite, both in South Africa and in the Central African Republic. If this is so, President Zuma’s position both as President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, becomes untenable. The nation must know the truth.
Instead of clarifying these crucial questions, President Zuma continues to shroud them in secrecy.
We believe that our troops should be withdrawn immediately. To this end, the DA will table an urgent parliamentary resolution – a power granted to us by the Constitution of South Africa – to compel the President to bring our soldiers back home.
The DA has already called for a full Parliamentary Inquiry into whether the President ignored the advice of senior officials: why the SANDF was deployed without a mandate from the United Nations or the African Union, and whether the President misled Parliament when he said that the SANDF’s involvement would be limited to "capacity building of the CAR defence force".
The acting Speaker of the National Assembly, Nomaindia Mfeketo, has refused such an inquiry.
The DA’s Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, has directly called on President Zuma to use his powers in terms of Section 7 of the Joint Rules of Parliament to convene a meeting of both houses of Parliament to provide members with a full briefing as to what happened in the CAR, and what his plans are going forward. There has been no response from the President, despite the urgency of the matter.
Given the continued controversy surrounding the deployment, the lack of a clear mandate for our troops to remain in the CAR, the continued risk to the soldiers’ safety, and rumours that SANDF is considering a ‘revenge’ mission into the CAR, we believe the entire SANDF presence should be withdrawn immediately.
The Democratic Alliance will therefore table a resolution in terms of Section 228(5) of the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993, read in conjunction with Schedule 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996, to force President Jacob Zuma to terminate the deployment of all South African troops to the Central African Republic.
This provision provides that:
Parliament may by resolution terminate any employment referred to in section 227 (1) (a), (b) or (e), but such termination of employment shall not affect the validity of anything done in terms of such employment up to the date of such termination, or any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred as at the said date under and by virtue of such employment.
As Parliament is currently in recess, the DA will submit this draft resolution to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu. We urge him to convene a sitting of Parliament as a matter of urgency to allow for this resolution to be tabled and voted upon. Parliament cannot sit back while this crisis unfolds. It has the power to act, and it must use it.
We will never accept the abuse of South Africa’s military to prop up dictators and protect the financial interests of politically-connected business people. It is time to bring our soldiers back home.