COMBAT TRAINING CAMP
SA mourns six soldier deaths as Gift of the Givers rushes to aid 1,300 who lost ‘everything’ in NC runaway fire
President Cyril Ramaphosa and others share their condolences after six soldiers died in a fire that swept through the army’s combat training centre at the Lohatla base in Northern Cape on Friday. The troops were taking part in a military exercise.
Six soldiers died and three are in hospital with third-degree burns after raging veld fires swept through Kathu in the Gamagara Municipality District in Northern Cape and spread to the Lohatla South African Army Combat Training Centre on Friday, 6 October.
“The members who met their untimely death following the unfortunate incident are: Staff Sergeant Abraham Desember Morajane, Staff Sergeant Sipho Berrington Cele, Corporal Sithembiso Wiseman Ndwalane, Corporal Noxolo Faith Ngubane, Lance Corporal Prince Michael Mthethwa and Lance Corporal Londiwe Purity Zulu,” said the SA Army in a statement on Sunday.
“The departed warriors will be fondly remembered for their fearlessness, sacrifice and defiant spirit throughout their military careers, and they will be sorely missed in the South African Military fraternity.”
Four men and one woman died at the scene and one woman died in hospital. The South African National Defence Force said 1,300 personnel had lost shelters, vehicles and personal belongings.
The troops have been deployed in the area as part of the Vuk’uhlome exercise.
The fire began mid-morning on Friday near the Khumani and Beeshoek mines. Strong winds and a heat wave exacerbated the fire and carried it to the base, according to the Department of Defence.
The South African Defence Union expressed support to the affected SANDF members, encouraging them to “stand strong”.
“A board of inquiry will be convened by the SANDF to determine among other things, the circumstances leading to the loss of personnel and equipment as well as the value of equipment losses,” the union said.
Tebogo Gaolaolwe of the Northern Cape Disaster Management Centre said on Sunday afternoon that the SANDF was still tackling the blaze in small pockets, though the fire at the base had been contained.
“We requested the Fire Protection Association to assist as well. We are awaiting a comprehensive report which will detail the extent of damage,” Gaolaolwe said.
Not enough time to evacuate
SANDF spokesperson Major-General René Mercuur said safety precautions were in place but the fire was unpredictable and had changed direction. At 70 km/hour and with flames five to 10 metres tall, they didn’t have enough time to evacuate the whole base, the spokesperson said.
Thirteen members of the South African military have died in three weeks. Four soldiers died in a road accident on 20 September. They were travelling from Upington, in Northern Cape, to Lohatla in two military vehicles with one in tow when a tyre burst, and the soldiers were flung from the vehicle.
On the same day, three SA Navy submariners died when a giant wave swept seven crew members out to sea while they were conducting a vertical replenishment of a submarine en route to Cape Town.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South African Army mourns loss of four soldiers in road accident outside Upington
In the latest tragedy, vehicles, tents and equipment were also destroyed. The Defence Force will launch an investigation into the fire and the cost of the damage.
The Chief of the South African Army was on site at the weekend “to personally take charge of the situation”. More information will be revealed as investigations continues into the cause of the fire at the nearby mine.
In a statement released on Sunday, 8 October, the Presidency offered its “deepest condolences” to the families, friends, and colleagues of the deceased SANDF members.
“The President wishes the injured SANDF members a speedy and comfortable recovery and his thoughts are with survivors who witnessed this tragedy,” the statement read.
Northern Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Koliswa Otola expressed her heartfelt condolences to the loved ones and colleagues of the fallen soldiers.
Gift of the Givers teams are preparing aid packages in response to requests from the SANDF to assist their members who lost “everything” in the devastating fire.
“The SANDF made an urgent request for clothing including underwear, hygiene packs, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, face cloths, hand towels, sanitary pads, energy drinks and blankets. Gift of the Givers teams are loading our truck in Johannesburg with the items requested whilst team members are sourcing additional supplies from wholesalers this morning before embarking on the seven-hour journey,” said Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman.
Sooliman offered his condolences. “Remove the uniforms and they are just ordinary human beings with loved ones depending on them for a livelihood and a stable family,” he said,
The funeral service of one of the three submariners, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, was held in Limpopo on Sunday.
SA Navy || Today, 08 October 2023. The funeral proceedings of the late Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa is currently underway at the Ga-dikhale village in Limpopo.#SANDF#SANavy#RIPSASoldier pic.twitter.com/hqbkrA5TiZ
— SA National Defence Force (@SANDF_ZA) October 8, 2023
Funeral services were held earlier for Warrant Officer Mokwapa Lukas Mojela and Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector.
A memorial service was held on 27 September for the four soldiers who lost their lives in the tragic road accident in the Northern Cape. DM
Video source: Facebook/SANDU