SANDF soldiers detained or suspended for alleged sex crimes and UN violations in DRC
Their alleged offences include running brothels.
Eight South African soldiers in the UN peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo were detained or suspended earlier this month for alleged sexual crimes, including running brothels named Soweto, Bloemfontein and Cape Town near their military base in the east of the country.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) said in a statement this week that it had taken “immediate and robust action in response to reports of serious misconduct by UN peacekeepers.”
These “initial measures include suspension from duty, detention, and confinement to quarters of concerned peacekeepers, pending receipt of additional information on the allegations, including through the conduct of a full-fledged investigation.”
Monusco said these measures had been taken in line with the UN Secretary General’s “zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct.”
The UN statement did not reveal how many peacekeepers had been detained or suspended or their nationality but the French news agency AFP reported that it had seen internal Monusco documents identifying them as eight South Africans.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Peacekeepers behaving badly: Why South African ill-discipline in DRC is a UN problem
Daily Maverick approached the SANDF to confirm this on Thursday but it had not replied by the time of publication on Friday. Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson Kobus Marais confirmed the report and told Daily Maverick that his party condemned the behaviour of the eight SANDF soldiers. He also criticised Defence Minister Thandi Modise for remaining silent on their transgressions, “which she’s well aware of”.
“We demand that those soldiers and their commanders all immediately be sent back to SA where they must be brought before a military court ASAP,” Marais said.
AFP said the internal Monusco documents which it had seen reported that the eight South Africans deployed in Beni in the turbulent eastern DRC had been arrested on 1 October and an officer suspended a week later “in connection with alleged sexual exploitation and violence.”
They are suspected of “systematic widespread violation” of UN rules.
“Bars and brothels named Soweto, Bloemfontein and Cape Town,” after South African towns, have sprung up near the Monusco base at Mavivi, near Beni, according to one of the documents, AFP said
Another report in Africanews added that the Monusco documents said that “makeshift bars in front of the Monusco Mavivi base, near Beni, are used for transactional sexual relations”.
It added that the South African officer now suspended had “intimidated and verbally threatened UN personnel” following the arrest of the peacekeepers over the brothels.
This had resulted in an attempted escape, a brawl, and a chase by members of the UN military police.
Modise, Ramaphosa under fire
Marais called the arrest of the SA peacekeepers “another serious failure” on Modise’s watch, adding that she, the soldiers implicated and their superior officers were “embarrassing our nation”.
“It’s another example where the political will is absent to assure the SANDF is a disciplined defence force with 100% of their focus on the execution of their tasks in the DRC and to assure the integrity of our nation.”
Marais said the Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF — President Ramaphosa — had also been quiet on this episode.
Demanding that the soldiers be brought home immediately and court-martialled, Marais said, “If we don’t act immediately and in a very strong way, we cannot expect to be taken seriously and to be handled with respect by the UN and all its member states”.
He said that if as many as eight SA soldiers had been suspended in one incident, one could assume that sexual abuses were widespread.
South Africa has deployed soldiers in the UN peacekeeping mission since 1999. The current contingent of about 1,000 are part of Monusco’s Force Intervention Brigade. It was first deployed in eastern DRC in 2013 with a robust mandate to neutralise the many armed rebel groups terrorising eastern DRC.
It achieved initial success, routing the Rwanda-based M23 rebels later that year. But since then its fortunes have been mixed. DM