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By Editorial staff

Journalist


Like charity, our defence should start at home

President Ramaphosa's decision to deploy 2,900 troops sparks debate on the necessity and risks involved in the DRC conflict.


At least President Cyril Ramaphosa was calling a spade a spade when he confirmed that South Africa will be sending 2 900 troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to “assist in the fight against illegal armed groups in the Eastern DRC”.

That’s exactly what it is – a war, not the hearts-and flowers image of some sort of policing operation which is contained in the words “Southern African Development Community (SADC) peacekeeping mission”.

Our men and women from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) could find themselves tossed into the jaws of hell, because the M23 rebels they will be ranged against are not only battle-hardened and canny, they also have some powerful backers.

Prominent among them is the government of Rwanda, which has a history of meddling in the affairs of its big western neighbour.

Rwanda has allegedly been supplying weapons and training assistance to the M23 rebels.

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Of particular concern to military analysts is the probable presence of sophisticated mobile antiaircraft systems in the eastern DRC, supposedly supplied by Rwanda and which have been used to target United Nations observation drones recently.

This should be a massive concern to the about-tobe-deployed South African force because, earlier this month, ground forces of the M23 rebels fired at an Oryx helicopter from the SA Air Force.

The helicopter was hit at least 43 times by small arms fire, which badly damaged the chopper and injured two on broad, including the pilot.

Although it made a safe landing, the incident highlighted the vulnerability of South African air assets in the absence of “top cover”, which had previously been provided by heavily armed Rooivalk attack helicopters.

There is, apparently, no longer a budget to operate them on foreign missions.

ALSO READ: South Africa sends 2,900 troops to the DRC

And therein lies the question that ordinary South Africans should be asking our government: Do we really need to be involved in a conflict 1 000km away? Why should our troops shed their blood on some foreign field, especially when there is no apparent threat to home soil?

What will we tell the widows and children when the body bags start coming home?

Do these sorts of commitments to regional peacekeeping campaigns make our ANC leaders feel better about themselves?

Will they be used to shine our national halo at the African Union, for example?

Even more important, though, what about the idea of continental solidarity?

ALSO READ: Two SANDF members injured after helicopter comes under fire in DRC

This has proven to be veneer-thin if it ends up with Rwandan weapons (and possibly soldiers) killing SANDF members.

What about a protest to Kigali, Madame International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor?

Taking that further, the Rwandans are being supplied with weapons like the anti-aircraft system by the Chinese. Not a good look is it, if one member of the vaunted Brics alliance is flogging weapons to all and sundry, which could cause the deaths of people from another Brics country?

Apart from anything else, the already grossly underfunded SANDF is going to expend R2 billion of taxpayer money on this expedition – money which it could well use itself to maintain some of its basic systems and which could also be far better used sorting out some of our own pressing social problems at home.

Do we need a military? Absolutely. But, like charity, defence should start at home.

ALSO READ: Militants linked to Islamic State kill 5 civilians in DR Congo