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After mortar fire tragedy, two SANDF soldiers deployed in DRC die in apparent murder-suicide

After mortar fire tragedy, two SANDF soldiers deployed in DRC die in apparent murder-suicide
South African military pallbearers carry the coffin of South African Defence Force Lance Corporal Thabang Semono, who was killed during a mortar incident in Democratic Republic of Congo. His wife (centre) attends the funeral in Pretoria on 2 March 2024. Captain Simon Mkhulu Bobe and Lance Corporal Semono were killed in February 2024 when a mortar landed inside one of the South African contingent’s bases near the city of Goma. (Photo: Marco Longari / AFP)

Just two weeks after two South African soldiers were killed by mortar fire in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two more SA soldiers died in an apparent murder-suicide in the central African nation.

In a statement released on Friday, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said that two of its members deployed in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) had died in a murder-suicide.

“The incident occurred when one of them shot and killed the other with their service weapon before turning the weapon on themselves with fatal consequences,” it said.

The statement said the minister of defence and military veterans, Thandi Modise, “expressed her shock” at the incident.

Speaking to Daily Maverick over the phone, the head of communications at the SANDF, Siphiwe Dlamini, would not share any information about the mental health resources available to SANDF members in general or to soldiers deployed in active conflict zones such as the one in the DRC. 

Instead, he directed Daily Maverick to the statement released on Friday, adding that the SANDF had convened a board of inquiry to work with Monusco to “investigate the incident and the circumstances that led to it”.

“We will wait for the outcome of the board of inquiry of the SANDF in conjunction with … Monusco, which will look at circumstances surrounding the incident,” he said.

Daily Maverick asked the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) and the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans about mental health and trauma care they offered for soldiers, but had received no response by the time of publication.

United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC:

According to an article in the South African Journal of Military Studies, “suicide is accepted as a common phenomenon in defence forces (also in the SANDF) around the world”.

In a reply to a question in Parliament in 2019, the then minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said, “Given the complexity of the development and later manifestation of [mental health] disorders, it is not possible to quantify the numbers that are involved without deep analysis of patient history per incident.

“The suicide incidence is a problematic aspect. Suicides are classed as unnatural deaths and therefore revert to the state coroner for final classification. The cause of death coding is vague, with most capturing indicated as ‘death unspecified’.

“All members have access to the full spectrum of clinicians in managing mental disorders. The SAMHS does have management and defusing programmes in place to render care after traumatic incidents and after every deployment.”

DRC missions

On 14 February, two SANDF soldiers were killed in the DRC.  

Captain Simon Mkhulu Bobe and Lance-Corporal Irven Thabang Semono were killed and three others were injured when a mortar shell exploded inside their military base in eastern DRC.

sandf drc

South African National Defence Force members carry a flag-draped coffin during the funeral ceremony for Captain Simon Mkhulu Bone and Lance Corporal Irven Thabang Semono at the Waterkloof Air Force Base. The soldiers were killed in a mortar strike that landed near an SANDF base in Sake, Democratic Republic of Congo, on 14 February 2024, marking the first fatalities for South Africa since it began deploying 2,900 soldiers in the east of the country in mid-December. (Photo: Marco Longari / AFP)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two SANDF troops killed, three injured in mortar explosion in eastern DRC

They were buried on 2 March. The SANDF reported that Bobe joined the military in 2011 and Semono in 2006. 

They had only recently been deployed in the DRC as part of a force aiming to neutralise armed groups, particularly the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels.

A statement released by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) explained that the SADC Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo was “deployed on 15 December 2023 to support the government of the DRC to restore peace and security in the eastern DRC, which has witnessed an increase in conflicts and instability caused by the resurgence of armed groups”.

As part of that mission, which is expected to cost South Africa R2.3-billion, South Africa authorised the deployment of some 2,900 troops. DM

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  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Such a tragedy – proper training by e perts and committed Army personal could have saved these lives!
    Instead of fighting for the rights of Africans in other countries, shouldn’t our army being deployed to fight for the lives of the people in our own country? Next minute they will find themselves fighting in Ukraine with Russia! The
    Political decisions taken by our government are tragic. Time for a change.

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