South Africa

Heroes and victims: SA’s fallen CAR troops

By Khadija Patel 29 March 2013

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, her deputy, Thabang Makwetla, and General Solly Shoke stood with family members of the deceased during a ceremonial handover of the remains of the fallen soldiers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to their families on Thursday. The remembrance of these men, however, is being increasingly politicised. By KHADIJA PATEL.

“If this was America they would be treated as heroes,” one Department of Defence official remarked after the coffins carrying the bodies of the 13 South Africans killed in the Central African Republic last weekend were handed over to families of the deceased at the Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria on Thursday.

“Instead they are being treated as victims,” he added.

After following the fortunes of South African troops in the CAR for the last week, the Daily Maverick has striven to piece together what actually happened in Bangui that left 13 South Africans dead. In the morass of uncertainty over the motivations for the deployment of our troops to the CAR, the fact that 13 South Africans were killed is all too easily overlooked.

The sight of 13 coffins draped in the national flag in a hangar at the Waterkloof air base in Pretoria was a sobering reminder.

And despite the questions that must still be asked about the continued presence of our troops in the CAR, the ceremony on Thursday was a stark reminder of how many questions about the deaths of these men can never be fully answered.

“Their last moments will never be known because they died fighting,” Mapisa-Nqakula lamented to the bereaved families.

Yet, according to the minister, every soldier wants to experience active combat.