Opinionista Greg Nicolson 2 April 2013

ANC: ‘They’re soldiers – they die when we say they will’

Fed-up by the political response to the loss of life in the Central African Republic that will feed us anything to avoid being held to account for what is at best a horrible tragedy caused by incompetent leaders and at worst the sacrificing of lives for corrupt interests, the only option is to turn to satire (yes, satire, no reason to sue us now) to report Monday’s developments.

“It doesn’t matter why they were there or what they were protecting,” ANC spokesman Dumi Denial said, speaking to Daily Maverick on the phone from an Easter Monday braai. “The key issue is that South African soldiers have died and have died well. They fought like the white boys in Rorke’s Drift, outnumbered and outgunned, far from home and the comfort of their loved ones, but with honour and pride for their leaders.”

More than a week has passed since 13 South African National Defence Force soldiers were killed in combat in the Central African Republic as thousands of rebels from the Seleka coalition marched into capital Bangui to overthrow President Francois Bozize. As South Africa mourns the tragic loss, the ANC has defended itself against criticism on why troops were there in the first place and what could have been done to minimise casualties.

Denial slammed the media, in particular the “Pinocchios at the Mail & Guardian”, for questioning whether the government had deployed soldiers to the troubled CAR to protect the business interests of party members and affiliates. “Interests?” he asked. “The party as an organisation, if we take it as a whole organisation and ignore the actions of our individual members, has NO business interests in the country. None. But South Africans do have a right to do business in CAR diamonds and if they are linked to the ANC, well, the president said it best, their business will multiply,” said Denial.

“To be honest,” he levelled, “we’re not even interested in the place. The relevant ministers were only persuaded to send troops to help Bafana Bafana ensure they made it past the group stage to qualify for the 2014 World Cup when we play in Bangui. If nation building is not a worthy cause, what is?”

Other organisations, however, remain skeptical. During an Easter clean-out of its offices, the Democratic Alliance found some old newspapers that reported President Zuma planned to send more Defence Force personnel to CAR. “It’s a little hard to tell because one of the interns cut the paper up for a collage she’s working on, but from what we can gather, South Africa should not have been in CAR at all,” said a party leader who wanted to remain anonymous because members get more press when they don’t give their names.

Speaking to media in Cape Town, DA member of Parliament John Begood was furious on Monday and said now is the time to act. “Thirteen South African soldiers are dead, many more were injured, a president has been overthrown and a new government in the CAR established. If we don’t act now it will be too late to embarrass Zuma,” said Begood. The party will have to change its 2014 campaign strategy to shame the ANC on the CAR issue as well as Nkandla, he admitted.

The DA is unsure of whether South African troops are still in CAR and hasn’t yet found the original memorandum of understanding that justified their deployment. “There are still a lot of newspapers we need to read. Some are yellowed by the sun and on certain days they weren’t delivered, when the Post Office workers went on strike. We’re doing everything in our power to set this right.”

The ANC gave a stern retort Monday. “They must stop pissing on everything!” yelled the very angry Denial. “If we question, even for a single second, why these soldiers died, then we’re dishonouring the efforts of our boys in Bangui.” He said it was the Commander in Chief’s decision to deploy troops and it was he who would personally take responsibility for any casualties. In accordance with the law, he argued, discussions on who is responsible for the deaths and how they could have been avoided will take place behind closed doors. “It involves classified and sensitive information and we do not want to cause any more pain to the families of the deceased,” he said.

“What we need now is patriotism,” said Denial, pausing to attend to the braai. “Rumour-mongering and attacks from anti-ANC snipers throwing lies from their turrets of privilege is not helpful to tackling South Africa’s quadruple challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality and the Seleka rebels. We call on all South Africans to unite behind our commander-in-chief and president, Jacob Zuma, in remembering this tragedy and working towards a safe and prosperous future.”

The ANC spokesman spoke glowingly of the soldiers and the armed forces, but argued against claims the troops were sacrificed by their government. “When it’s a soldier’s turn to die, it’s their turn to die. They are not scared, nor do they question why they are there. Our troops fight under our president and they do so valiantly. If he sends them on a doomed mission they must go, regardless of the innuendo and lies spread by rags like Mail & Guardian. They’re soldiers – they die when we say they will.”

Denial said neither the media nor the families should ask how it benefitted South Africa to have the troops in CAR, why they were kept there without sufficient equipment despite the increasing risk of attack, whether high-profile ANC members had links to businesses in CAR, whether Zuma misled Parliament or the public, or why the state’s version of the battle differs from other reports. “That would be a serious allegation against the ANC and anyone asking such questions should get a lawyer,” said the party’s spokesperson. DM

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