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Tuesday, 09 July 2024 23:45

SANDF soldier killed in DRC after hand grenade explodes.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

A South African soldier was killed Monday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when a hand grenade exploded near their sleeping quarters in their base in Beni, a city in northeastern DRC, said the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) Tuesday.

The soldier who died was deployed in the DRC as part of the United Nations MONUSCO peacekeeping force, which has begun to pull out of the war-torn east of the country.

Around 2,900 more South African troops have been deployed in the DRC as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) force sent to help the government fight M23 rebels.

According to the SANDF head of Communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, the soldier died when a hand grenade exploded close to the sleeping quarters.

"It is not clear what caused the hand grenade to explode. However, an SANDF Board of Inquiry, including United Nations officials, will be convened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.

"The name of the deceased will be announced when all processes to bring his mortal remains back home have been concluded and his family has been informed of his passing."

Dlamini says the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Angie Motshekga, expressed her sincere condolences to the family of the deceased.

In December last year, the East African Community force was replaced by the SADC force (SAMIDRC) with Malawi and Tanzania falling under the command of South Africa.

Monusco is also on a tactical withdrawal from the DRC after President Felix Tshisekedi asked it to leave last year.

The security situation in North Kivu has relapsed, exposing South Kivu to a likely M23 rebel threat.

On Monday, Bintou Keita, the special representative of the secretary-general and head of Monusco briefed the UN Security Council about the grave situation.

"The rapidly escalating M23 crisis carries the very real risk of provoking a wider regional conflict," she said. 

SAMIDRC on the ground has suffered numerous casualties, while the government's military arm, known as the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), is struggling to defend Goma and Sake.

With the situation getting worse, SAMIDRC is expected to have been fully capacitated by the Security Council at the behest of the African Union by early August.

DRC expert Stephanie Wolters, a senior researcher at the SA Institute of International Affairs, said in a webinar: "It's very difficult to get a handle on why South Africa has chosen to do this."

She said South Africa essentially had to withdraw its forces from Mozambique, where they had been participating in the SADC Mission to  Mozambique (Samim) which is fighting Islamist insurgents, because SA did not have the resources to fight in both theatres. 

"And one could argue that what’s happening in Mozambique is a closer threat to South Africa — and to Tanzania for that matter," added Wolters, referring also to the presence of Tanzanian troops in both the SAMIDRC and Samim.

"One thing that’s really missing from the South African approach that we would have liked to have seen is a greater engagement in a political solution. 

"South Africa does have a special envoy [for DRC]. Former minister Jeff Radebe was appointed last year, but we don’t see a lot of activism coming from his office. So I think it would be useful if South Africa could get more politically engaged in trying to find a negotiated solution between the sides."

Wolters said it was going to become increasingly difficult for South Africa to explain the major investment it was making in the SAMIDRC, in lives and money. 

Meanwhile President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent his condolences to the families of four South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members who passed away while on duty overnight on Friday.

The four members were deployed to a mine in the North West and their lifeless bodies were found inside a container structure they had used as a guard house.

In a statement at the weekend, the SANDF said the members were stationed on a 24-hour shift at Shaft 3, a dormant mining shaft in Orkney, North West, next to the abandoned Harry Oppenheimer stadium which has been a hotspot for illegal mining.