Without adequate air support, SANDF soldiers sitting ducks in the DRC, says defence union

Two members of the South African National Defence Force, deployed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were killed in a mortar attack this week. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena/Independent Media

The South African National Defence Union (SANDU) said members of the South African military deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo will continue to suffer deadly attacks unless authorities in Pretoria intervene decisively, with financial and air support.

On Wednesday, IOL reported that two members of the SA African National Defence Force (SANDF) were killed in a mortar attack on South Africa’s base on Tuesday in Sake, in the Eastern DRC.

SANDF confirmed the tragic incident on Wednesday.

“The SANDF confirms the mortar attack on one of our bases in Sake, in the Eastern DRC on June 25, which resulted in two fatalities and 20 injured,” said SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini.

“Four members who were critically injured have been hospitalised, whilst the rest who suffered minor injuries are expected to be discharged soon.”

Dlamini said families of the two members who lost their lives have been informed and all procedures to bring their mortal remains are in process.

In an interview with broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, SANDU national secretary Advocate Pikkie Greeff said the SANDF is hamstrung by lack of financial resources.

“What we need is support from the South African authorities, and the SANDF. This is by no means the union putting it on the feet of the SANDF, that it is to blame. It is not. It is a resource problem, it is a financial problem,” said Greeff.

“There is a financial crisis in the SANDF and only the government can sort that out. I really think it is time Treasury comes to the party and that we realise that when our soldiers come under attack, this country comes under attack and it needs an adequate response.”

He said an adequate response under the circumstances would be to provide the soldiers in the DRC to have air support from the SA Air Force, which is “much needed”.

A Rooivalk combat support helicopter. File Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

If the situation is not addressed, Greeff warned that South Africa will continue to suffer casualties in the DRC.

“The question is, how many lives must South Africa pay for before we realise that it is a question of finances and somebody really taking a firm decision on the matter. It is one thing to lose soldiers in combat, but it entirely unacceptable to lose soldiers to lose soldiers because of resources,” he said.

“Certainly, government needs to explain to the families of those involved on how does this come to be. It is completely unacceptable.”

He added that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that South Africa does not have a Cabinet at this stage, following the May 29 general elections.

The attacks on the SANDF members are presumably launched by the heavily armed M23 rebels.

Last month, Sergeant Mbulelo David Ngubane, 39, was killed following contact between M23 and SADC forces. Sergeant Ngubane, who was an Operational Medical Practitioner in the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS), was shot and killed when the ambulance in which he was tending to injured members was attacked.

The latest casualties bring to five the death toll from three attacks launched on SANDF soldiers deployed to the volatile country under the South African Development Community Mission in DRC (SAMIDRC).

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