2 April 2013
South Africans should be proud of the soldiers who were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) during clashes with rebels last week, President Jacob Zuma said during a memorial service at the South African Air Force Base in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Thirteen South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members died and 27 others sustained injuries during a gun battle with the rebel alliance known as Seleka on the outskirts of Bangui.
“When future generations ask what kind of men and women these were, who gave so much of their lives to the service of the people of South Africa and the continent, we will be able to boldly say how special they were, to put their own lives at risk for such a noble mission of building peace on the continent,” Zuma said.
Zuma rebutted claims that South Africa’s soldiers were in the CAR for reasons other than national interest and the mandate of the African Union. He said the soldiers in CAR were there to provide military training, refurbish bases and barracks and provide equipment.
South Africa and the CAR signed a military cooperation agreement in 2007, which was renewed for a further five years in December 2012. The agreement was to provide the CAR’s army with an array of military training, from infantry, artillery and special forces training to logistics and driving courses, as well as to refurbish military infrastructure in Bouar and Bangui.
“They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent, and to the promotion of peace and stability, which would lead to sustainable development in Africa,” Zuma said.
Most of the deceased soldiers are from Bloemfontein. All will be accorded full state funerals.
Meanwhile, the rebel takeover in the CAR has been strongly condemned internationally. The African Union has suspended the country’s membership and imposed sanctions on Seleka leaders, including the CAR’s self-proclaimed new leader, Michel Djotodia.
Djotodia, a former diplomat and civil servant, joined the protest against President Francois Bozize in 2005.
After taking power last week, Djotodia said the rebels, which he leads and who are now in control of the country, would rule according to peace accords recently signed in Libreville. Bozize has fled the country.
Zuma is expected to travel to Chad on Wednesday to attend an extra-ordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) which will also discuss the situation in the Central African Republic.
The summit has been convened by Chad President Idriss Deby Itno, who is the ECCAS chairperson.
According to the Presidency, Zuma will be accompanied by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula.