The SANDF Chief of Operations briefed the Joint Standing Committee on Defence that the SANDF deployment of 957 members and related equipment in the DRC has been extended by President Minute no 64/2020 from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. Operation Mistral is the SANDF's contribution to this UN mission. The UN has committed itself to downscaling the footprint in the DRC, according to the President. During this process, however, South Africa is still expected to provide forces to the UN mission. As part of its international obligations, it must meet this expectation. Forces have been employed in Operation Mistral since 1999, and the mandate has been renewed every year since then.
Members asked for the other countries sending troops to assist with this mission; the size of the deployment as a whole; and long South Africa will be stuck to this deal; if the drawdown would affect the Force Intervention Brigade.
The Chairperson ruled that even without a quorum, the meeting could proceed, and any decision reached can be rectified in a later meeting when there is a quorum. The initial agenda was an update on the Reserve Force System that is being developed. However, after receiving a letter from the Minister that the matter should be stood down due to lack of consensus among the Council on Defence, the agenda was changed to discuss the two 16 March 2021 letters from the President.
President Letter: Extension of SANDF Deployment in SADC Mission in Mozambique Channel
Members agreed to this the letter. The briefing meeting on this will be in the new term.
President Letter: Extension of SANDF Deployment in UN Mission in DRC
Lt Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, Chief of Joint Operations: SA Army, stated that a political decision had been made that the South Africa will be involved in UN Peace Support operations as a Troop Contributing Country. This led to South Africa's involvement in the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). The President's Minute no 64/2020 extends the mandate to the SANDF for the deployment of no more than 957 members and associated equipment in the DRC from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022.
The current operation, Op Mistral, as approved by Cabinet consists of the following units and with a total of 957 members as per the Memorandum of Understanding with the UN:
Command and Support Unit 26 members
Tactical Intelligence Unit 40 members
Composite Helicopter Unit (Aviation) 155 member
Airfield Crash and Rescue 14 members
Medevac (Medical Task Group - AMET) 12 members
Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) 708 members
External Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) 2 members
Operation Mistral total expenditure is R818 504 388.
The Chairperson asked which other countries are contributing troops to this mission. What is the total deployment? How long do you think South Africa will be stuck to this arrangement?
Gen Maphwanya replied that Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa are the contributing countries. There is current arrangement in the reconfiguration of the Force Implementation Brigade (FIB) where some of the staff officers are coming from non SADC countries. The total deployment is three battalions, one from South Africa, one from Tanzania and another from Malawi. With it a Brigade is formed with a combined staff from both SADC and non SADC and troop contributing countries. As for how long, that decision has already been taken in the renewal of the mandate. United Nations has already started a planned drawdown of the forces which might be revised again in 2022 on whether armed elements will still be needed, or limited armed elements might remain. The emphasis in the drawdown is for the people of DRC to slowly start taking full responsibility of stablised areas and allow their police and governance authority to start putting structures in place to be managed by the Congolese.
Mr S Marais (DA) said when the budget is compared to a normal troops deployment budget, one must understand that the deployments is in a dangerous terrain outside of South Africa’s borders. The number of forces approved now is lower by 200 than the President approved last year. Is it an indication that the UN has started to reduce numbers? From which category were the 200 troops cut? Is it from all sections or just from the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)?
The Chairperson asked Lt Gen Maphwanya to indicate areas where the information could not be shared in an open sitting because of sensitivity. Arrangements could be made for a closed meeting.
Mr D Ryder (DA) asked if South Africa felt that the reduced numbers are still sufficient for the optimal functioning for the people out there. Are we saying a reduction in the ratio in command and support in the Force Intervention Brigade? This is to know if we still have enough force that could look after itself and keep our military personnel safe. How has the process been on the reimbursement received from the UN?
Gen Maphwanya responded that the reduction in numbers is two-fold and in line with the UN drawdown plans accommodating other factors. The cut in numbers is from the Framework. The first cut was from the Military Police component and a company of police was requested not to be extended. That was the first element that reduced the numbers. The second element earmarked for further reduction was ground support who are the cargo handlers. The UN indicated their presence will not be needed as of June.
On whether it will impact on the ability of the troops to discharge its mandate, he observed that the current complexities and requirements of the conflict is dynamic, and the troops will be required to provide support and protection to civilians. The UN has just indicated that part of functions of the FIB is the creation of an entity known as the “Quick Reaction Force”. South Africa has lost some of its members assigned there; however, the Department will still come and give a presentation on that. The numbers might still come back to the original numbers South Africa had but that will form part of that presentation in due course. The ability of the FIB to discharge its mandate will remain unshaken and it has been bolstered as well. Be reassured that South Africa will not allow its forces to be unprotected even when they are serving under the UN. The drawdown is on inconsequential areas especially areas where there is stability. The DRC is required to put in governance structures that will take over from withdrawn areas to enable life to return to some semblance of normalcy.
The Chairperson said the President entrusted the soldiers in the hands of the Defence Force who then tasked the Chief of Joint Staff with continuation and deployment. After listening to General Maphwanya on the contents of the letter from the President, one is comforted that South African forces are in good hands.
Members were unanimous in wishing the troops deployed well and to convey the good wishes of the Committee to them and that they all return in good health.
The Chairperson agreed to draft a letter of good wishes carrying the signature of all Committee members to be sent to the South Africa troops in the DRC via the Chief of SANDF.
The 25 February 2021 meeting minutes was adopted.
The Chairperson clarified about the two Committee reports adopted at the 25 February 2021 meeting. The Committee Report on South African Defence Industry (SADI) role-players July 2019 to 6 November 2020 was sent to the National Assembly and is now published in the parliamentary papers. The Committee visit to Gauteng Bases and the Landline Border was adopted subject to the Committee seeking a legal opinion to confirm that it fell within the Committee’s mandate to go as far back as 2006.
The Chairperson thanked everyone for their inputs and the meeting was adjourned.
- Information Brief to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on the Sandf Operation Mistral: 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022
- Information Brief to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on Sandf Operation Mistral
- President Letter: SANDF Deployment in Mozambique Channel
- President Letter: SANDF Deployment in DRC
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