Thirteen men dead. And we don't know why

Jeremy Gordin on the deaths of our soldiers in the Central African Republib

I did my national service in 1976/77 at 1 Parachute Battalion, Tempe, Bloemfontein.

So I could write about having trained, slept, eaten, had the shite punched out of me, and all the rest of that good stuff, in the identical places that the same was experienced by, or done to, 1 Para Bn's Corporals Mokgadi Darius Seakamela and Ntebaleng Andrew Mogorosi, Lance Corporals Daniel Sello Molara and Lukas Mohapi Tsheke, and Riflemen Lesego Maxwell Hertzog, Zamani Jim Mxhosana, Xolani Dlamini, Vusumzi Joseph Ngaleka, Karabo Edwin Matsheka, Khomotso Paul Msenga, Maleisane Samuel Thulo, Motsamai William Bojane, and Thabiso Anthon Phirimana.

Or we could, dear readers, together wonder, in a rather bemused state, what the powers-that-be - no names, no pack drill, because some are good friends - were smoking at The Star when they allowed the following to appear on Tuesday in the page one story about the soldiers killed in the Central African Republic (CAR):

"Two hundred South African soldiers courageously fought off 3 000 CAR rebels at the weekend. The last time there were similar odds against a far smaller force was probably 134 years ago when 150 British soldiers held off 3 000 Zulu warriors at Rorkes Drift ... over a 14 hour period."

Rorkes Drift? Rorkes Drift? Brits versus the Zulus? This is an apposite analogy for what happened to those youngsters in CAR ...? What?

But I don't feel as though shlocky sentiment about the parabats or sarcasm will do any justice to the dead troepies.

I think their deaths - and 13 deaths are the deaths of 13 human beings with their lives still ahead of them (as banal or lame as that might sound) - I think their deaths were (and are) a massive tragedy.

It's a tragedy, to begin with, because we and, above all, their families, are being kept in the dark and fed dung - like the proverbial mushrooms. I think it's called "mushroom management". We have no real idea of what the SA troops were doing there.

I want, first of all, to know where were their company commanders, the lieutenants and captains, and their other senior officers, the majors, and, on a mission of this nature, probably a lieutenant-colonel or commandant or two. (Does the SANDF still have commandants?)

I want to know because I suspect there wasn't a protracted battle (as in "Rorkes Drift"). Seems to me this was a direct hit or maybe two, from mortars - which is why a bunch of guys, who would have been huddled in a group, were whacked together.

Alternatively, which is a horrible thought, this group of men weren't even locked and loaded, weren't even prepared for combat, either through ignorance ("mushroom management"), inexperience or laxity - and were surprised and gunned down.

Or yet another alternative, also a horrible thought: the parabats were acting as a bodyguard detail for this creature François Bozizé (this has been suggested, more than suggested, by better people than I) and the group of men, who were killed, were left behind to cover their officers and the special forces operators who were shepherding Bozizé and his jewel boxes to Cameroon.

Let me be clear: I'm not trying to denigrate these men. What I'm trying to say is that there is something "wrong" with the version/s we are being spun. (The rebels "surrendered" with "a white flag" - or popped by the next day to apologize. Yeah, so did Oscar Pistorius.) All this stuff, incidentally, is about the only thing that is analogous to Rorkes Drift - which was, of course, a 19th-century spin job to attenuate what had happened just before at Isandlwana. (You didn't think it was the Americans who invented spin, did you? If you really want to know, it was King David - but this is a discussion for another day.)

Now all of the above raises even more ugly questions, as have already been laid out on this site by the DA's David Maynier.

According to him, our government was warned that "the situation was deteriorating badly" - which means a rebel attack was imminent - but that our government chose to do diddly-squat about it. That sounds about right when it comes to our government; maybe we'll have a commission of inquiry too.

Actually Maynier is quite sweet. He wrote that parliament needs to be told "whether President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of the SANDF against the advice of the Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the Military Command who reportedly recommended, earlier this year that the 28 soldiers originally deployed in the CAR should be withdrawn".

You have got to be kidding, sir. Mapisa-Nqakula knows as much about defence matters as Noddy; is about as pro-active as I would be at 11pm after four whiskeys; and is as likely to do anything vaguely contrary to Zuma's wishes as Dina Pule or Angie Motshekga.

More importantly - and Maynier has raised this question - is why Zuma said "the SANDF was being deployed in the CAR to assist with ‘capacity building of the CAR defence force' and to assist with the ‘implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration process'".

In addition, there is the question of whether the SANDF was deployed legally. According to Maynier, the SANDF was deployed in terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and the CAR (i.e. between Zuma andBozizé) rather than a mandate from the United Nations or the African Union.

Why? Are they buddies? Are Zuma et al interested in the CAR's much-vaunted natural resources, uranium, crude oil, gold, diamonds, lumber, hydropower? Are the owners of the New Age newspaper looking for a captive audience? Or might Little Julie Malema be partially forgiven and dispatched to the CAR to study the governance methods of the former Emperor Bokassa for future use in Seffrica?

I've written before, on this site and in other places (sorry to sound like Allister Sparks), that one thing that never ceases to take my breath away, old and ugly as I am, is the massive contempt with which the ANC government, this government of liberation and saviours of the people, treats its own citizens - its own electorate.

There is no better example of this contempt than the death of these 13 soldiers and the lies we are going to be proffered about the whole appalling business. A real South African tragedy - and, alas, there are so many of them.

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