Peacekeeping: July 19, 2003


Amid signs of growing discontent among South African troops, a South African army (SANDF) task force is about to be drawn even deeper into the international peacekeeping effort in the Congo (DRC). Defense Minister Lekota dropped in like a lightning bolt on the South African contingents at Kinshasa and Kindu on the 9th, giving them a verbal butt-kicking. Noting that soldiers were not sent to foreign countries to complain, he added that those who weren't happy with the conditions they had to serve in should consider resigning.

Interestingly enough, Lekota also addressed reports of racial tension. He said that the troops in the Congo selected were "among the cream" of the defense force and that the complexion of SANDF members was not taken into consideration. "Racism goes both ways" was a fairly enlightened comment, considering how the African National Congress has bulldozed former guerillas into SANDF positions, whether they were qualified or not, to be officers and NCOs. 

Colonel Lawrence Smith, the commander of the South African's Kindu base, said that his troops had received only 80 percent of the equipment they needed and might be involved in additional peacekeeping duties unplanned for when the SANDF first considered the Congo deployment. For instance, they are short on Casspir troop carriers since there was an increased demand for military escorts for local civilians and UN military observers. They considered the lack of UN baby-blue helmets and armored vests "a serious threat to their safety", since the South African troops could not be identified as peacekeepers in the Congo's sea of camouflage uniforms. 

There had been slow delivery of essential equipment (like computers and electric kitchen units for soldiers deployed outside the base's mandated area of operations) and no delivery of morale items (like video, TV and volleyball games), due to have been delivered in March.

The future isn't going to get any easier, if the South Africans stay in the Congo. The UN had asked SA Engineers Corps members to set up a ferry service on Lake Albert, after the French leave at the end of September. The lake borders Uganda and northeastern DRC, so the ferry service would be vital in setting up the peacekeepers' monitoring base in the area. The SANDF was currently assessing the viability of such an undertaking.

One bright note is that a pro-Congolese government Mai Mai militia has retracted claims made in early June that South Africa was smuggling weapons into the Congo, in collusion with South African mercenaries. The Mai Mai commander in the Maniema region, Konga Kanape also claimed that the mercenaries were training rebels in Kindu to use the smuggled weapons, and demanded an international probe into the matter. 

The South Africans took the threat the Mai Mai might attack their positions and recover those weapons very seriously and had their component of Third Party Verification Mechanism (TPVM) investigate the matter. They found that Kanape must have had an ax to grind with the SANDF and the accusation was withdrawn. - Adam Geibel




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