Defence Committees conclude successful oversight to the DRC

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CAPE TOWN, South AfricaThe Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans together with the Joint Standing Committee on Defence conducted a successful joint oversight visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The purpose of the oversight visit was for the two committees to interact with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) peacekeepers in a foreign deployment area.

The visit allowed Members of Parliament to gain insight into the circumstances of deployment, as well as to be briefed on operational achievements and challenges. In the process, the delegation was updated on issues such as reimbursements made by the United Nations (UN) for services rendered, logistical issues relating to procurement and transportation to and from the mission area, the reported sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) cases, and the SANDF’s contribution to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco), in particular the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).

The committees were informed that it was largely the contribution of the SANDF contingent to the FIB that contributed to the stabilization of the eastern part of the DRC in recent years. In particular, their role in the elimination of the M23 rebels as a security threat, with the assistance of South Africa’s Rooivalk attack helicopters, has been widely acclaimed.

The delegation engaged with SANDF representatives on the impact of a reduction in the level of engagement of South African forces, particularly the potential implications of a withdrawal of the Rooivalk helicopters.

“In the case of a withdrawal, South Africa will have to review the continued deployment of other military components, such as the infantry battalion, which forms a crucial part of the FIB.” notes Mr. Stan Motimelo, the Chairperson of the Porfolio Committe

The delegation agreed with the SANDF’s assessment that the withdrawal of the helicopters is likely to compromise the safety of peacekeepers, mission integrity and sustainability of the FIB, and is therefore unlikely to support such withdrawals.

It is important to note that these cases refer to the previous contingent and no cases have been reported with the current contingent of SANDF soldiers

The delegation also met with the special representative of the UN Secretary-General at the Monusco headquarters and South African embassy staff in Kinshasa. During engagements with the SANDF peacekeepers, they shared their achievements and concerns as experienced in the mission area.

One of the issues highlighted was the alleged involvement of South African peacekeepers in the recently reported SEA cases. The delegation condemned such acts and expressed its discomfort with the manner, timing and reporting of these cases.

” Mr. Stan Motimele said , “It is important that these cases be investigated by the SANDF as well as the UN and both parties have been kept abreast of developments in the outstanding cases. It is important to note that these cases refer to the previous contingent and no cases have been reported with the current contingent of SANDF soldiers.”

The delegation therefore requested the South African embassy in Kinshasa and the SANDF to improve its communication with the UN and the South African public in order to address some of the negativity around these reported cases.

One of the highlights of the oversight visit was the inspection of the Eringeti Company Observation Base at Beni in the North Kivu Province of the DRC, under armed escort. The delegation engaged with South African peacekeepers from 5 SA Infantry Battalion, while the Rooivalk helicopters kept a watchful eye on proceedings on the ground.

Members of Parliament were able to experience first hand  conditions under which South African troops are deployed and made several suggestions to address some of the challenges being experienced by South African soldiers.

“The delegation wishes to extend its appreciation and well wishes to South African peacekeepers in the DRC as they assist the Congolese to establish a secure environment to allow for peaceful elections in the country and to continue to exhibit their military prowess in very demanding circumstances.” he concludes