‘Soldiers died for a good cause’- Zuma


Emotions ran high at a memorial service in Pretoria on Tuesday for 13 South


African soldiers killed by rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Bereaved relatives, mostly women, covered their shoulders with shawls and fought to hold back tears as President Jacob Zuma lauded the fallen soldiers.

“They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent and the promotion of peace and stability,” he said at the Swartkop Air Force base outside Pretoria.

They were killed on Saturday, March 23, when they were attacked by Seleka rebel fighters near the CAR’s capital Bangui. Their commander, Major Stephen Jiyane, told mourners they were warriors. He said they were ambushed on the way back to their base.

The soldiers were advancing towards rebel fighters outside Bangui, but some rebels managed to cut around them and attacked their base.

“We stood our ground and fought, the grass and the bushes of Bangui provided cover for us in the dark hours of the night,” Jiyane recounted events in staccato fashion.

He praised the soldiers as “disciplined tigers”.

“[They] waited like tigers for my command and fought like lions until the end. They are great warriors.”

The families were seated in front and at the right side of the podium. On a table close to the podium were pictures of the 13 soldiers. The soldiers’ relatives lit candles next to each picture.

Zuma said: “Our servicemen died for a worthy cause. They died in defence of the country’s foreign policy. They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent and the promotion of peace and stability.”

The soldiers were sent to the CAR line with an agreement signed in 2007 in which South Africa was to train the CAR army, Zuma said. Another 200 soldiers were deployed late in 2012 when security deteriorated in CAR, to protect trainers and South African military assets already in the CAR.

Questions had been raised over the presence of South African troops in that country.

“Serious questions about our presence in the CAR remain, and those must be investigated and answered fully in time,” Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said in a statement. She was also at the memorial.

The SA National Defence Union earlier urged South Africans to ask questions about troops in the CAR.

“The SA Constitution specifically provides for civilian oversight and accountability of the employment and deployment of SA’s armed forces for the very reason that such accountability was non-existent under apartheid and thus open to abuse,” national secretary Pikkie Greeff said.

Zuma said at the memorial: “No country discusses its military strategy in public in the manner in which South Africa is expected to do in this country.

“Those who are engaging in this game should be careful not to endanger both the national interest and the security of the republic while pursuing party political goals.”

A representative for the soldiers’ families, Thembisile Gilimba, said the SANDF had provided a chaplain and social workers to help them deal with their grief.

“We were angry when we received the news about the deaths of our brothers, but the support from the SA National Defence Force made us stronger.”

The families were expected to finalise funeral arrangements later this week.

via Sapa

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