South Africa

Open Letter to President Ramaphosa

The families of those who died in the Battle of Bangui: ‘How and Why did our husbands die?’

The families of those who died in the Battle of Bangui: ‘How and Why did our husbands die?’
Members of the South African National Defence Force carry a coffin draped with the South African flag at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Gauteng on 28 March 2013. The coffins carrying the bodies of the 15 South Africans killed in the Central African Republic and the remains of the deceased were handed over to families of the fallen soldiers. (Photo: Greg Nicolson)

The widows and families of the 15 South African soldiers who died in and after the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic — which began on 23 March 2013 — have appealed to the South African government for help. The 15 soldiers were part of the 200-strong detachment of crack SANDF troops deployed to Bangui under the Jacob Zuma administration, and who fought a desperate battle with 7,000 Seleka rebels before a ceasefire was negotiated.

For more background, read here and here.

Dear Mr President (Honourable Mr Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa),

We write to you this letter with sharp piercing pain that almost tore our lives apart and changed our lifestyles as we live in fear of expressing our feelings after we lost our lovely heroes in a mission in the Central African Republic (Battle of Bangui 2013).

In 2013 South Africa experienced a horrifying story of losing its own Special Forces that were deployed to the Central African Republic. The soldiers fought fiercely with the rebels and held it down, but it was unusual how the deployment happened and how the SA soldiers were suffering from a lack of basics, such as water and food.

We learnt that the 13 SA soldiers died from the battle that lasted almost four days without stopping and later two died due to succumbing to the wounds they got from being injured on the battlefield.

Mr President, allow us to tell you that those soldiers were firstly citizens of South Africa just like everyone, members of our communities, sons, husbands and fathers. They had responsibilities and had dreams that got shattered by the former president and the minister by not withdrawing them from an alarming situation that threatened to kill them. 

Nevertheless, they died anyway because no one was responsible for their safety and they had no choice but to fight without enough resources to protect themselves, as they were left in that state of the country. Mr President, we feel cheated of a life spent with our husbands and betrayed by the ruling government that was supposed to protect our husbands and fathers.

We write to you today because it is now eight years without any closure or a good explanation as to how did they go on a deployment that the AU/UN did not know about? Mr President, how did our husbands die? This has been the big question in the public’s minds and has been haunting us and affected parties all these years. We would like to seek clarity and understanding on this dragging issue of the Battle of Bangui. To this day, we have not gotten clear answers as to why and how this came to happen that we lost our loved ones in such brutality and suffering that we only learnt now after the book published in February 2021 (The Battle of Bangui). It hurts because we only learnt (through this book) how our husbands were abused and left there to be on their own by our very own trusted leadership.

We feel that our loved ones were not considered to be withdrawn from the Central African Republic because we believe that they were sent on that mission for self-serving interests that had nothing to do with humanitarian reasons.

To expose them to hunger was worse than everything else, all in the name of protecting their friend, then CAR president Mr Francois Bozize who also left the country at the expense of our husbands’ gruesome deaths! We still can’t reconcile with the fact that our husbands were subjected to this dehumanising situation!

Indeed they (SA’s then leaders) are responsible for their killings as we believe it was an abuse of power from our leaders who were clearly motivated by their personal interests. We also believe that the reason why we were not allowed to talk to the media is that some of this kind of dehumanisation was somehow going to be exposed because our husbands were always living in fear and they told us their stories there in CAR, how they never had food and water. What hurts us most is that they were starving.

Mr President, it is painful to hear that Mr Bozize was flown down to South Africa and was welcomed very well but left our husbands to die for him and their bodies were left to decompose for at least a day in that country’s hot weather, no decency of a mortuary, nothing! (That hurts the most after all that they went through already).

We are well aware that they fought very fiercely and killed at least 300 of the rebels, well we can be proud and all that, but we feel very disappointed that our loved ones’ futures had to end just like that because they had no choice in their situation but to fight as they lived in fear of being killed.

Remember Mr President that the rebels warned our leaders to remove our husbands there, they did that numerous times and even when they approached they were given enough time to be able to withdraw them from their questionable deployment. It has been reported to us that before our soldiers were attacked and ambushed, the rebels shot from a distance, which gave our leaders ample time to withdraw them from [a] clearly self-serving deployment!

They did not consider their safety and for that Mr President we feel very belittled and cheated and lied to, that is why we ask for them to come forward and account for what they did. Maybe they have a good explanation of why they left our soldiers to an alarming life-threatening situation and why they continued to give the very same leader of that country safety before our loved ones?

Was it even fair Mr President? We also ask the president to assist us with the letter of mission of that deployment.

In our African culture, when someone dies from war/unnatural death, their spirit is fetched and there are ceremonies that are to be done to allow their spirit that was in war to rest. We felt it was not considered to us but we have been asking to be assisted to fetch their spirits and bring them home. One of the challenges is that other family members of the fallen heroes are always sidelined from community jobs. There is a mistaken belief in the community that these family members have money and so don’t need a job. To this day, women are getting nothing for their sons who are heroes and it pains us all, Mr President.

We wish not to suffer the pain of loss and the pain of being in poverty while those who were responsible for this selfish decision of their deployment and who are ultimately to blame for these deaths, continue to live in luxury and secured homes with their kids in good schools.

Mr President, we also learn that former president Jacob Zuma misled Parliament with the tabling of the deployment cost, saying that it would cost R65-million for five years, but it only lasted for three months.

On that note, Mr President, our loved ones’ families to date were compensated with a very dissatisfying amount of money that we are still wondering why were we compensated? The money was little enough to last for two months according to other families. It was not worth the death of our husbands to be exact! In fact, no human’s life is worth any amount of money.

However, to compensate for our loss, as widows we have a plea to Mr President to revise the amount we have received — it is not worth the compensation that would suffice as we were dependent on our husbands’ incomes. We ask, Mr President, to at least give our husbands’ families an amount of money that is worth what their death was worth.

If they were real heroes, why are we being disrespected like that with the little money that they paid out and still think that we are OK with that? We are still waiting for the honorary amount of money that is at least worth their sufferings.

It’s highly disrespectful to our husbands, but again we have learnt also that there are companies that benefited from the diamond dealings at the cost of our husbands’ bloodshed!

We also ask the President to hold those companies to account and to this effect, we request them to give our kids’ shares to secure their future as part of the legacy. Our husbands’ deaths were worth a good price for the ultimate sacrifice they made because we believe that they were on their own!

Hence our plea, Mr President, that we ask for a dignified pay-out as we have stated. If indeed they were heroes, their death will not be in vain, and with the request we are making, while we believe it will not bring them back to life, it will somehow serve justice and their dependents will at least be taken care of. We want to be able to make their kids proud as much as their communities will.

For their legacy to live long, Mr President, we ask for support to open a foundation for them that will assist the widows of this country who are left without the security of human rights and basic needs, such as housing and food.

We wish to give them a legacy that will protect the widows and their kids in this state of the current situation in our country, where women and children are suffering the scourge of violence and abuse at the hands of men.

We wish not to suffer the pain of loss and the pain of being in poverty while those who were responsible for this selfish decision of their deployment and who are ultimately to blame for these deaths, continue to live in luxury and secured homes with their kids in good schools.

In conclusion Mr President, we were also made aware that a man by the name of Themba Mdlalose, who was working at the Department of Labour, was disqualified from work because he called to let us know that we have been misled and the money that should have been paid to us had not been because we were struggling with the letter of a mission that is not there. Why, Mr President, if the SANDF had nothing to hide, why did they disqualify him? It is very important to us to be granted a commission of inquiry for this matter so that we get closure.

Mr President, we are not able to celebrate them as heroes but are shocked to learn about their horrifying experience in Bangui. It pains us every day when we see our leaders not attending to this matter as if it was just an accident. We believe that writing to you Mr President was in good faith.

We thank you,

Widows/Partners of Fallen Heroes:

Kelebogile Bojane; Madikeledi Thulo; Nozuko Ngaleka; Juliet Molora; Liatile Letele; Noluthando Sigasa; Kholekile Dlamini; Mamoloke Moloke; Nontsikelelo MaAfrika; Retshedisitswe Lee; Mamotse Mothabeng; Manare Seakamela; and the families of the Fallen Heroes. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Neil Parker says:

    This letter raises a lot of questions. As concerned citizens we need to support the writers by requesting speedy answers from the relevant authorities. But first things first: let us call on government to compensate the widows and their families appropriately and with immediate effect.

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