2900 SANDF members will be sitting ducks in the DRC

Issued by Kobus Marais MP – DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans
13 Feb 2024 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached English and Afrikaans soundbites by Kobus Marais MP

The decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy 2 900 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is reckless, irrational and must be reversed immediately. Ramaphosa has ignored several warnings from military experts against this deployment and has instead decided to unilaterally place our troops in harms’ way.

Of particular concern is that Ramaphosa decided to authorise the deployment without timeously informing Parliament of his intentions as required by the Constitution. Parliament’s defence committees have not been officially alerted of this deployment, only becoming aware of it through the media. By refusing to be transparent, Ramaphosa could essentially be hiding the real reasons why he authorised the deployment – reasons that may have nothing to do with South Africa’s national security.

The reality is that the SANDF does not have the capacity to effectively pursue an anti-insurgency campaign against the M23 rebels and neither does it have the prime mission equipment to support the ground forces. For example, the SANDF has no Rooivalk helicopters available and the five Oryx in the DRC will likely be reduced to two during the course of that DRC deployment.

Regardless of whether the deployment will be in phases or all at once, the foreign deployment of 2900 troops is easily one of the largest in South Africa’s democratic era. It is therefore utter madness to deploy a force of that size with inadequate or no air support.

Without proper air cover as well as transport and air elements, the SANDF troops will find it difficult to operate effectively in the eastern DRC, which is a complex and hostile terrain. Besides, South Africa should not be shouldering a military responsibility that falls squarely with the African Union and the East African Community. We simply do not have that capacity and are definitely out of our depth fighting rebels in a terrain that we are not familiar with.

With this impulsive deployment, Ramaphosa has not learnt any lessons and is repeating the same mistakes as with previous combat missions in Bangui, Cabo Delgado and most recently in the DRC itself – where our troops came under fire resulting in the unnecessary loss of life. There is a high chance that the M23 rebels, using their familiarity of the territory, will resort to tactical ambushes of the SANDF to inflict maximum harm on our troops.

Besides the human lives that are at risk, the idea that R2 billion will be spent on this deployment is simply ridiculous. That money could have been better spent on upgrading the SANDF’s prime mission equipment and improving the logistical capacity of the military value chain. We simply cannot be weakening South Africa’s defence capabilities at home to fight a war that has no strategic value to our country.

If anything, we should be prioritising the capacitation and deployment of the SANDF to improve border surveillance, both on land at sea. Foreign deployments should only be made when there is clear evidence that events outside our borders pose an immediate and direct threat to South Africa’s national security. The conflict in the eastern DRC does not fall in that category.

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