Wednesday, April 10, 2013

South African troops fighting M23: It’s not all about us

No fear No Favours No Military handouts..........


South Africans have understandably reacted with consternation to the news that the country’s armed forces will soon be at war against the M23 militia in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. After the loss of 13 South Africans in combat in the Central African Republic, you’d forgive South Africans for expressing their anxiety at the latest military adventure across our borders. The reservations of South Africans about the involvement of the country’s troops, however, belie the greater problems attached to the formation of the United Nations brigade to fight the M23. By KHADIJA PATEL.

“As our former Chief of Staff of our glorious Umkhonto Wesizwe, a decorated soldier himself, had he been alive today, Comrade Chris Hani would have praised our soldiers who gallantly gave their lives in the Central African Republic for a peaceful, better and prosperous African continent,” the ANC said in its statement commemorating the anniversary of the death of Chris Hani on Wednesday. And even while Hani’s widow, Limpho Hani, told Redi Tlhabi of 702 that invocations of Hani that seek to speculate what the late Communist Party leader would have thought or done had he been alive today are unfair to his memory.
South Africans, however, continue to invoke Hani in this way – understandably, perhaps, considering that he is an undisputed giant of South African history.
And while the deaths of the 13 South Africans in Bangui, Central African Republic, do not quite rival the singular importance of Chris Hani to the course of South African history, the juxtaposition of the 13 dead soldiers with Chris Hani by the ANC itself indicates that the death of South African troops in CAR marks a shift in the way South Africa as a nation is defined in its own consciousness. 
The news of the death of South African soldiers in CAR triggered a realisation of the robust role South Africa seeks on the rest of the continent.
The ambitions of South African foreign policy are expressed in the list of the current deployments of South African troops across Africa. The SANDF is currently deployed in Ethiopia, Burundi, Sudan, DRC and Mozambique. The defence force is also fighting pirates, or at least guarding our waters from anybody (read Somalis) with ambitions towards piracy this far south of the Indian Ocean. 
Last month the United Nations Security Council decided to mandate an “intervention brigade” to “neutralise and disarm” armed groups in the eastern DRC. To this end, South Africa has already committed troops and by many accounts have them waiting for instructions in Uganda.
A UN Security Council diplomat, however, revealed to Reuters that the principle purpose of the intervention force would be to “search and destroy the M23 rebels and other armed groups” in the country. The official, who declined to be named, confirmed the worst fears of the M23 movement, whose political leader Bertrand Bisimwa at the weekend warned the UN that by attacking the M23, the world’s body would be choosing war instead of peace - and that it would be at war with the Congolese people.
Last week, an open letter from the M23 implored the Parliament and people of South Africa “to consider and convince the government not to send their sons and daughters of their good nation in an absurd war against their Congolese brothers.”
South African people may be willing to listen to the rebels, lest our borders are mowed down by zealous rebels from up north. Government, however, is not inclined to listen. Last week, minister of International Relations and Co-Operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane made it clear that the South African government would not heed the demands of rebel groups.
“Consequently, the M23 has no responsibility in this mutual massacre, which seems to be programmed just to please those who, from their air-conditioned skyscrapers in New York offices, whom have nothing but contempt and ignore our values and our pan-African beliefs,” the rebel group warned.
The population of South Africa has not been the only recipient of an open letter from the M23 rebels and its cohorts.
The rebel group also sent an open letter to US President Barack Obama, warning that a war between the United Nations and M23 would result in “among other wanton consequences, that of turning the entire Great Lakes region of Africa into a mammoth fireball, and the world far adrift will register in no small way adverse consequences thereof”.
The M23 is probably the best organised of the several dozen armed groups in the eastern Congo. They are said to number several thousand and last November they demonstrated their prowess – and disillusionment with the central government – by wresting control of the eastern region’s largest trade hub, Goma.
The M23 is different in many ways from other rebel groups. Its officers, who stem largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, are well trained and well adjusted to the strains of war. The group also has at least two websites, a radio station and a political wing.
With the aid of a tired turn of phrase, the M23 rebellion is actually a symptom of a far greater underlying condition. People of the eastern Congo, like many others across the DRC, are said to have little faith that Kinshasa will ever do anything for them. Congolese president Joseph Kabila was re-elected in 2011 in an election that was slammed around the world for being far from free, or fair. South Africa stood by Kabila’s re-election. Kabila’s government, however, has still done little to tackle the deep-rooted rot of corruption and patronage politics that ails the country.
Thus far, the United Nations has not been able to address the root causes of conflict in the DRC despite its best, and most expensive, efforts. 
The UN peacekeeping force for the DRC, Monusco (which includes about 2,000 South Africans) was previously mandated to protect Congo’s civilians, with 19,000 men in uniform at a cost of $1.4 billion a year. It is the world’s biggest and most expensive peacekeeping operation. Monusco did little except watch as M23 took Goma last November.
Across the eastern DRC, angry mobs surrounded UN positions, threw stones at aid workers and burned UN compounds.
The UN now seeks to make amends.
As the Daily Maverick’s Simon Allison explained earlier this week, “Monusco’s mandate was extended by the UN Security Council to March 2014, and altered quite dramatically to incorporate an ‘intervention force’ which is empowered to go on the offensive against rebel groups if necessary. The extra troops being committed by South Africa – possibly as many as 1,000 men – will be part of this new intervention force.”
Meanwhile, this week a new round of talks between the Congolese government and the M23 began in Kampala. They are meant to discuss issues related to the political situation in the country as well as security and socio-economic issues. The Congolese government entered the talks this week expecting the rebels to lay down their arms for fear of the UN intervention brigade.
Others are not so confident about the UN’s strategy. They believe the UN is encouraging the Uganda talks to ensure an exit strategy for the intervention brigade once it fails its mandate.
And in the morass, there are renewed fears that M23 may well launch a new campaign to retake Goma.
The deployment of South African troops to fight the M23 in the DRC still needs to be thoroughly examined. South African officials must explain, properly this time, the reasons for the deployment of South African troops in what appears to be someone else’s war. We must ensure that South African troops are not being used as security guards for mineral deposits. We must do this because, as Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out to the bereaved families of the fallen CAR soldiers, it is us, the South African people, who sent them there.
This is all relevant, and it is necessary.
It is, however, equally relevant and necessary to realise that the fight we’re getting into is about a lot more than our involvement. The only way to bring peace, sustainable peace, to the Congo, is to address the root causes of conflict in the east of the country. DM 
Read more:
  • SA soldiers in another central African country: this time it’s different in Daily Maverick
  • Back to war in City Press
Photo: M-23 rebel fighters are transported on trucks as they withdraw from Goma December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


A pair of South African arms dealers from weapons manufacturer Paramount were trapped in the Central African Republic as the coup toppling Francois Bozize took place. The Times reported Miles Chambers and Clement Salanga were in the CAR to discuss selling weapons to Bozize as rebels forces moved closer to the capital, Bangui. The newspaper reported the team were on the way to meet Bozize when they were detained near his palace for over five hours. It was when South African forces engaged in battle with rebels on the outskirts of the city that they managed to escape as Bozize’s soldiers fled. They hid in a diplomat’s house before French troops evacuated them and they were flown home in a Paramount jet


Back to war

7 April 2013 10:01
Yesterday we buried 12 of the 13 soldiers killed in battle with rebels in Central Africa. Today we prepare to send more than 1 000 troops to a perilous new war in the DRC.
“We don’t want to kill our brothers from South Africa.”
This was the thinly veiled threat by Congolese rebel leader Bertrand Bisimwa as the bruised SA National Defence Force (SANDF) prepares to do battle again.
This time, the front is the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the new enemy is Bisimwa and his M23 rebel group.
The SANDF is part of a multilateral regional force, which includes the armies of Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania, and has the blessing of the UN Security Council.
Tons of weaponry were this week being flown in huge Russian cargo planes from Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Makhado airports to Entebbe in Uganda, close to the Congolese border, where South African forces are expected to be based.
Bisimwa and M23 have warned South Africa that they are in a different league to the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) who killed 13 South African soldiers.
“We say welcome (President Jacob) Zuma. M23 is not Seleka,” the group wrote on their official Twitter account on Thursday. On Friday, M23 tweeted: “If SA special Force attacks us; it will be catastrophic & apocalyptic.”
The rebel group accuses Zuma of sending South African troops to the DRC to protect his nephew Khulubuse’s oil interests.
Bisimwa spoke to City Press’ sister newspaper, Rapport, from the DRC yesterday. He said it would be a grave mistake for the SANDF to attack them.
“My message is we are fighting for peace and for good governance in our country. There is a letter I wrote to Parliament and the people of South Africa to ask them not to come and kill their brothers here because we are all fighting for good governance in Africa.
“We don’t want to kill our brothers from South Africa. We are asking them to support peace in Congo, not to come to fight,” said Bisimwa.
Asked how he would react if South African troops were to attack M23, he said: “We will defend ourselves and our positions.
But we will not attack them if they don’t attack us.
“We have time to negotiate in Kampala (negotiations started in January) . . . We understand the DRC will also be there.
“Our people in Congo don’t like war in their country, just like in South Africa.”
M23 are regarded as new-generation rebels and are active on social media platforms.
They are the region’s most feared group and, according to experts, have rocket launchers, 37mm anti-aircraft weapons and other “dangerous armoury”.
They top the list of rebel groups being targeted by the UN Security Council, which authorised an “intervention brigade” on March 28 to “neutralise” armed forces in the eastern DRC.
This was a dramatic change from the UN’s peace mandate in the past, which only allowed soldiers to shoot back when they were being shot at.
In expectation of South Africa’s deployment to the DRC, which could happen as soon as the end of April, masses of military equipment, including helicopters, were transported to Entebbe this week.
The defence force hired Russian cargo jets – including a huge Ilyushin II-76, registered to Belarusian company TransAVIAExport, and an Antonov 124 – to transport the weaponry.
An Ilyushun II-76 pictured above) was photographed at Air Force Base Waterkloof last Thursday.
It was unclear whether soldiers were also aboard the 20 flights to Entebbe.
One defence source said “special forces” were taken to Uganda, but this was disputed by other reports.
Beeld reported that the cost of the transportation alone could be more than R300 million and that Gripen fighter jets were also sent to Entebbe.
More than a thousand South African troops are expected to be deployed to the DRC.
– Additional reporting by Adriaan Basson
A Congo expert with close ties to the rebel leaders told City Press that South Africa underestimated M23.
“If they (the South Africans) think they will go out into the hills and annihilate these guys, they’re f*****g crazy.
“If an army goes in, which does not know the terrain or the politics, is overconfident and is itself not combat equipped for these kind of operations, they’re going to be kicked. If South African special forces could not keep Seleka at bay – not nearly as coherent a target as M23 – how are they going to defeat M23, which are in their own back yard?”
With the absence of a plan for what will happen after the attack, the mission is doomed to fail, “just like many similarly structured American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Sultani Makenga, M23’s commander, is well-trained and has helped to overthrow two governments in the area – the Rwandan government in 1994 and the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, in the then Zaire, in 1996.
Defence analyst Helmut Heitman added: “What worries me is that M23 have some rocket launchers and they captured twin-barrel 37mm anti-aircraft weapons from the Congolese army. They have dangerous weapons.
But if we have a good commander, we will do a good job.
“We need to make sure we have good intelligence before we go somewhere. Our troops should be better armed and equipped. After that (CAR fight), no rebel troops will want to fight South Africa.”
A defence force source warned about “loss of life” among our troops because the Congolese rebels know the area better. “But we have the advantage of air support.”
According to sources with knowledge of the mission, two Rooivalk attack helicopters were among the hundreds of tons of equipment flown to Entebbe.
An Institute for Security Studies conflict analyst, David Zounmenou, said M23’s recent loss of Rwandan war veteran Bosco Ntaganda (who surrendered himself to the International Criminal Court), along with military support from Rwanda, may mean M23 is “less dangerous than we think”.
Zounmenou says he expects a deployment at the end of April. An SANDF spokesperson declined to confirm this yesterday.
– Additional reporting by Sabelo Ndlangisa

City Press


Why does President Zuma not use all the unemployed ANC MK soldiers to fight his unjust wars?

Or are they his personal 'Home Guard' deployed in the Western Cape to keep peace and order in that


Imagine how much SA would be saving on our strained economy?

The Lion of Africa - POST   Haile Selassie THE EMPEROR OF ETHIOPIA.


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