The South African Military Ombud (SAMO) briefed the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on its investigation into allegations of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members suffering from food poisoning. This came after reports that the SANDF members fell ill after consuming rotten meat and vegetables at the Pemba and Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Mozambique. The Committee had requested the Minister of Defence (DOD) instruct the SAMO to institute the investigation. The Minister of Defence assigned the SAMO in terms of Section 6 (11) of the Military Ombud Act No.4 of 2012 to investigate the allegations.
Members heard that the SAMO interviewed two categories of witnesses: those not present in the Mission area and those who were present. SAMO informed the Committee that on or about September 2021, the mobile pantry was intermittently malfunctioning and underwent repairs. A Medical Practitioner at the base found that the rations were rotten from 20 October 2021 to 24 October 2021. SAMO investigators found that before serving the rations, the cooking staff had identified that some of the food was rotten but, instead of disposing of all the food, decided to salvage, cook, and serve food that was later found to be rotten. A causal link was found between the rotten meat consumed by the soldiers and infectious diarrhoea they contracted on or about 25 October 2021.
The Deputy Minister apologised on behalf of the Department. He informed very concerned Members the matter was currently being dealt with by the Minister and Office of the Chief of the SANDF. The absence of the Minister and the Chief of the SANDF was noted. Members asked what consequences there would be for those found to be negligent, what preventative steps would be taken in the future to ensure this does not occur again and what consequence management would be implemented. They asked how this matter was brought to the Committee's attention when the Minister's office was still attending to it and why the Deputy Minister had been unaware that the report had been shared with Members.
The Committee considered three letters from the President, which indicated his decision to extend the deployment of SANDF members for Operation Vikela in Mozambique, Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and maritime security in the South African Development Community (SADC). Members indicated their support for the extension of the deployments as long as the Department budgeted for them.
The Chairperson indicated that the Committee would receive feedback on the investigation into allegations by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members suffering from food poisoning after eating rotten meat and vegetables.
Following reports from the media on complaints laid by the SANDF members on consuming rotten meat and vegetables provided by the Department, the Committee requested that the Minister of Defence instruct the Military Ombud to institute an investigation.
He said that following the discussions on the report, the Committee would consider two letters from the President.
Mr S Marais (DA) indicated that the Committee received three letters.
The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Thabang Makwetla, highlighted that officials from the Department, the Secretary for Defence and the Chief of Joint Operations were not present in the meeting.
South African Military Ombud (SAMO) briefing on its Mozambique Report
Mr Velile Jonas, Director: Investigations, SAMO, briefed the Committee on its investigation into allegations of SANDF members suffering food poisoning after consuming rotten meat and vegetables.
In his introduction, he indicated that SAMO was assigned by the Minister of Defence in terms of Section 6 (11) of the Military Ombud Act No.4 of 2012 to investigate the allegations. During its investigation, SAMO interviewed two categories of witnesses. The first category was witnesses who were not present in the Mission area and the other was those who were present.
SAMO officials conducted inspections at the Pemba and Forward Operating Base (FOB) Macomia in Mozambique and found no cooler storage for the fruits and vegetables. Before establishing the mess facility at the base, soldiers were provided meal allowances and ration packs, which were stored in a mobile pantry. On or about September 2021, the mobile pantry was intermittently malfunctioning and underwent repairs. The Medical Practitioner's inspection at the base found that the rations were rotten from 20 October 2021 to 24 October 2021 due to a malfunctioning mobile pantry. Following this, some of the rations stored with the rotten ones were salvaged, cooked and served to soldiers. However, the salvaged rations were also found to be rotten.
The investigation found a causal link between the infectious diarrhoea suffered by soldiers and the rotten meat and vegetables served. It could not be found that any soldier intentionally served the rotten food to other soldiers. However, the investigation found some members acted negligently, failing to dispose of all the rotten and spoiled food in the mobile pantry.
He listed the recommendations from the report, some of which were:
- That relevant preventative steps are taken to ensure this incident does not occur again
- That relevant steps are taken to address the findings of negligence in the report
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said that he was concerned by the findings and he asked what the consequences there would be for those who were found to be negligent. Additionally, he asked what preventative steps would be taken in the future to ensure this does not occur again.
He criticised the state of logistics provided by the Department. He recommended that the Committee consider putting forward a recommendation to include this matter in the Department’s budgetary review to ensure sufficiently funded and catered for ground operations.
The Chairperson mentioned that the report contradicts the Chief of Joint Operations' previous presentation to the Committee on this matter. He asked what preventative steps would be taken by the Department to ensure that this issue did not occur again. In addition, he asked what consequence management would be implemented.
The Deputy Minister (DM) apologised on behalf of the Department for what occurred. He informed Members the matter is currently being dealt with by the Minister and Office of the Chief of SANDF. Once both parties have agreed on a way forward, the Department will brief the Committee.
He added that he was unaware that the report had been shared with the Committee until he had received the invitation for the meeting.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would invite both the Minister and the Chief of SANDF, who were not present, to answer the findings and recommendations in the report. He added that they would also be expected to explain what consequence management has been implemented and what preventative measures will be taken.
Dr M Basopu (ANC) asked how this matter was brought to the Committee's attention when the Minister's office was still attending to it. Two, he asked why the DM had been unaware that the report had been shared with Members.
Lieutenant-General Vusumuzi Masondo, Military Ombud, said that the Ombud complied with the 30 days to finalise its investigations. Once finalised, the report would be sent to the Minister’s Office, which was responsible for what action should be taken.
The Chairperson clarified that the Minister was aware that the Committee would be briefed on the report as its agenda was approved weeks ago.
Mr Ryder requested that the Minister and the Chief of the SANDF provide a full and proper response on the matter in the next meeting.
Letters from the President
The Committee then moved to consider the three letters from the President, which were
- The extension of deployment of the SANDF Members to the SADC Maritime Security
- The extension of deployment of the SANDF Members for the service and fulfilment of an international obligation of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) towards the United Nations (UN) stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Operation Mistral)
- The extension of deployment of SANDF members for the service and fulfilment of an international obligation of the RSA towards the SADC (Operation Vikela).
The Chairperson, referring to the deployment of the SANDF to the SADC Maritime Security, mentioned that the extension is for 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. The expenditure expected to be incurred was R154 million.
Regarding the deployment of the SANDF members for Operation Mistral, he said that 241 additional SANDF members were deployed, bringing the total number to 1198 members. The deployment is for 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 and the expenditure expected to be incurred was R1 billion.
Referring to Operation Vikela, he indicated that 1595 SANDF members were deployed to support the Republic of Mozambique to combat acts of terrorism and violent extremism affecting areas in the country. The extension is for the period 16 April 2022 to 15 April 2023 and the expenditure expected to be incurred was R2.8 billion.
Mr Marais was pleased that all three letters were received within time. Referring to Operation Maritime Security, he said this is a standard operation and the Committee cannot disagree with the extension.
He stated that Operation Mistral is also a standard operation, but the UN has mentioned that it intends to phase it out. He was unsure why there was an increase in the number of soldiers deployed. In addition, he was concerned as the DOD will not be refunded based on soldiers deployed but on the serviceability of the equipment used. He asked what the expected refunds were and why there was a need for the additional deployment of soldiers.
On Operation Vikela, he said that the Department does not have the budget to fund this operation. He suggested that when the Committee meets with National Treasury (NT), it should request that it provide the DOD with additional funds as the deployment is an additional commitment. He asked that the Chief of SANDF provide details on the funding of this operation.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) mentioned that the Committee should note the comments made by Mr Marias.
Mr Marais mentioned that the cost per person in Operation Mistral would amount to R8381, whereas the cost in Operation Vikela will amount to R18 729.
The Chairperson said that the Department must assure the Committee that it has the funds to carry out these operations until September's adjustment budget.
DM Makwetla confirmed that the letters were discussed in a previous Council on Defence meeting and were flagged for deeper assessment of the obligations imposed by the deployments. The Minister, he added, will share the result of the discussions after their conclusion.
He indicated that the absence of an updated defence review had placed greater pressure on the Department to have a consolidated framework to conduct its work. The Minister will also share more details on this.
The Chairperson said the deployment of additional SANDF members is supported by the Committee as long as it is budgeted.
The Committee considered and adopted its minutes of 17 March 2022.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Media Statement: Joint Defence Committee Defers Discussion On Food Contamination Investigation To a Later Date
- Mozambique Report Presentation
- President Letter: SANDF Mozambique Deployment (NCOP)
- President Letter: SANDF UN Monusco Deployment (NCOP)
- President Letter: SANDF SADC Deployment (NCOP)
- President Letter: SANDF MONUSCO Deployment (NA)
- President Letter: SANDF SADC Deployment (NA)
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