SA soldiers applauded for peace keeping efforts in Africa

Thursday, November 5, 2009

South Africa is today recognized and highly respected as a peace broker by the international community, especially in Africa where countries have been plagued by instability and war, writes Edwin Tshivhidzo.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has over the years embarked on dangerous and ambitious peace keeping missions to secure stability and peace in war torn African nations under the auspices of the United Nations.

South Africa was among the first countries to deploy military forces in support of the Burundi peace process in 2003. In 2000, during the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) peacekeeping mission, the SANDF spearheaded efforts to stablise the country's internal politics, reconstruction and development of infrastructure and trained DRC troops.

Since 2000, South Africa, has been a major contributor to the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission efforts and has troops and military observers deployed in the DRC, Burundi, Darfur (in Sudan) and Nepal among others.

In 2004, South Africa and the DRC signed an Agreement of Defence Cooperation, paving the way for the two ministries to further sign an agreement on Practical Assistance to the Government of the DRC, among others.

There are currently just under 3000 South African soldiers participating in peacekeeping missions under the AU and United Nations.

Speaking at the 10th Anniversary of South Africa's participation in Peacekeeping Missions recently, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged and recognized soldiers for their dedication in serving South Africa.

"South Africa is now regarded by the international community as an honest and reliable peace broker. Today the Burundi people and the people of the DRC are each governed by democratically elected governments after decades of instability.

"We attribute this to the dedication and professionalism demonstrated by our soldiers in the pursuit of the goal of eradicating conflict on our continent. We will continue to work with the African Union and the United Nations in the pursuit of peace. Keep up the good work, you make us proud to be South African" he said.

South Africa has also signed agreements with the DRC and Benin, which make provision for the training and setting up of various African countries' defence forces.

According to Brigadier General Lawrence Smith, Commanding Officer for the 43rd South African Brigade, participating in the Peacekeeping Missions has been extremely challenging and has provided an opportunity to learn new things.

Brigadier General Smith was one of the first senior officers in the defence force who was recruited in the first peacekeeping mission in the DRC in the late 90s and in 2001 he was assigned to protect officials in Burundi.

When BuaNews asked Brigadier General Smith about the challenges he has faced in peacekeeping missions, he said operating in an environment where he was not familiar with the local language was difficult.

"Not knowing the local language [has] hampered communication but other than that it has been interesting," he said.

"The SANDF will continue to take part in the peacekeeping missions until such time that their services are no longer needed."

He emphasized the importance of participating in peacekeeping missions saying that it contributed to South Africa's economic wellbeing

Junior soldiers are deployed in peacekeeping missions for a period of six months while senior officials are deployed for a year.

In 2008, the SANDF trained former DRC armed forces who later became known as the Rapid Reaction Battalion and became members of the DRC Defence Force. The first battalion of these trained troops were received by the DRC Defence Minister, Chikez Diemu.

The trained Battalion is expected to provide security and stability especially after the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping force in that country.

In 2007, the South African National Defence (SANDF) received R388 million to enable it to perform its peace keeping missions.