I have written to President Jacob Zuma to request that he calls both houses of Parliament to a joint sitting as a matter of urgency so that he can provide a detailed briefing on the events currently unfolding in the Central African Republic.
In terms of Section 7(1)(b) of the Joint Rules of Parliament, the President is empowered to call a joint sitting of Parliament at any time to conduct special business (Section 42 (5) of the Constitution of the Republic).
The fact that 13 soldiers were killed and 27 were wounded in what was described as a "high tempo, high intensity battle" in the Central African Republic, is reason enough for the President to brief the members of both houses of Parliament.
It is particularly worrying that the South African troops were deployed in the Central African Republic in the first instance. The record of President Bozize speaks for itself:
- President Bozize first came to power through a military coup in 2003
- His cabinet has been filled by close family members
- His leadership has been plagued by corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism
- His security forces have been accused of torture and stifling free speech
- The Central African Republic remains one of the most corrupt states in the world, with one of the lowest ratings for good governance
The key question that needs to be asked is: why did South Africa need to lose lives to defend this President?
It appears that the decision to deploy troops was linked more to President Zuma’s own close relationship with President Bozize, than the best interests of South Africa or the continent. The President must answer for this.
He must also provide clarification on a range of other matters as raised by the DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier:
- whether President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of the SANDF against the advice of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the Military Command who reportedly recommended, earlier this year, that the 28 soldiers originally deployed in the CAR should be withdrawn;
- whether the President effectively misled Parliament when he informed members of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence that the SANDF was being deployed in the CAR to assist with "capacity building of the CAR defence force" and to assist with the "implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration process";
- why the SANDF was deployed, in terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and the CAR, rather than a mandate from the United Nations or the African Union;
- why the defence force was deployed, in the middle of what amounted to a civil war, with so little military support (there were no helicopter gunships to provide air support to SANDF soldiers or transport aircraft to evacuate SANDF soldiers from the CAR) and
- the exact circumstances under which 13 members of the SANDF were killed in the CAR.
In addition, the President needs to brief MPs on the measures that are being taken to ensure the safety of South African soldiers still in the CAR and whether or not the force will be escalated in the near future.
It is unacceptable that elected members of parliament are left to speculate about what happened in the Central African Republic, or what action will be taken by the SANDF in the near future.
As Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force, it is essential that President Zuma shows leadership and urgently briefs parliament on all of these critical details.