‘We are fit for purpose, having been there since 2013' — SANDF on DRC deployment

16 February 2024 - 12:42
SANDF soldiers at the  2024 state of the nation address on February 6 in Cape Town. File photo.
Image: Ziyaad Douglas SANDF soldiers at the 2024 state of the nation address on February 6 in Cape Town. File photo.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) believes its troops to be deployed in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) “are fit for purpose” as the army has been involved in DRC military missions for the past 11 years.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the deployment of 2,900 soldiers to the DRC as part of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) army support mission against rebel attacks. The EFF and DA have lambasted the deployment as “reckless”, calling for the SANDF to be withdrawn.

The calls intensified after two soldiers were killed and three wounded on Wednesday when a mortar bomb hit a South African military base in eastern DRC. This contingent of troops had been there since December.

SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said South African soldiers, having been part of missions in the DRC for more than a decade, are well-equipped for deployment. In 2013, troops were deployed to the DRC as part of the UN stabilisation mission (Monusco). Since then, troops have been deployed several times.

“With us having been there under the UN offices in the Force Intervention Brigade, which was led by two of our military [officers], we are fit for purpose with the support we need,” Dlamini said on Newzroom Afrika. 

The soldiers who were attacked were part of an experienced team sent to the DRC to analyse the situation before deployment. 

“They had to prepare for the contingents that are coming; the actual deployment of the [large] numbers has not yet happened. This was a team that had gone there to scan the environment and settle in with the equipment needed,” Dlamini said.

The DRC was a “difficult terrain” and intelligence information was critical in identifying members of rebel groups as they were disguised as civilians.

“When I was in the DRC in 2013 it appeared that by night they become rebels and by day they are ordinary civilians. It is difficult to determine unless you get in an armed confrontation with them; otherwise you would visit the villages and probably bump into them as civilians.

“Intelligence capacity is important. This is a co-ordinated effort by the Sadc mission. We have Tanzanians, Malawians and experienced people in the DRC mission. That experience gives us an edge to work to identify and deal with the negative forces.”   

Several military commentators previously applauded the contribution made by Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi in the DRC, saying operations against the M23 rebel group in the eastern DRC were successful and resulted in the group retreating.

DA MP Kobus Marais said the deployment placed South African troops in harm's way.

“The reality is 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,” he said.

“The SANDF has no Rooivalk helicopters available and the five Oryx in the DRC will likely be reduced to two during the deployment.

“Regardless of whether the deployment will be in phases or all at once, the foreign deployment of 2,900 troops is easily one of the largest in South Africa’s democratic era. It is therefore 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.”