CAR: JHB family's anxious wait, troops stay put

After the shooting of 13 soldiers in the CAR, the SANDF says it is awaiting political instructions.

Chief of the South African Defence Force General Solly Shoke says withdrawing the troops from the Central African Republic is not an option. Picture: Lesego Ngobeni/EWN

PRETORIA - As calls grow louder for South African soldiers to be pulled out of the Central African Republic (CAR), the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has given no indication as to when a decision will be made.

Thirteen soldiers were killed in a fierce battle against the Seleka rebels at the weekend. Almost thirty other troops were wounded.

Trade union federation Cosatu has also added its voice to those calling for the soldiers to be brought home, saying the government that those troops were sent to protect no longer exists.

SANDF chief Solly Shoke says they are waiting for political orders, but adds that running away is not an option.

"[Our] soldiers are still intact in the operational area and we are waiting for the next order," he says.

Yesterday Shoke would not be drawn out about when a possible evacuation would take place, but kept on stressing the troops who were still in that country would be protected by any means necessary.

Reaction to the tragedy has continued to pour in, amidst ambiguity on when the bodies of the soldiers would be returned home.

TIME OF MOURNING TO BE ANNOUNCED

President Jacob Zuma says he will announce a period of mourning in due course for the 13 SANDF troops who were killed.

"We were in our base, we were not fighting anyone until we were attacked."

Zuma says the soldiers who were stationed at the base in the CAR simply defended themselves and the base.

The president says the troops were in the country to train the country's soldiers and were not there in a combative role.

The president was speaking in Pretoria on Monday, where he defended the deployment of troops to that country and said no decision had been made about the troops' withdrawal.

REBEL-INCLUSIVE GOVT RESPECTED DEPLOYMENT AGREEMENT

Zuma says a newly formed CAR government which includes the rebels has respected the agreement allowing for the deployment of SANDF troops in that country.

He also says the SANDF is looking at ways to reinforce their soldiers in the CAR and to ensure no further casualties.

Zuma, South Africa's Commander-in-Chief, says that South Africa remains committed to the region.

"The actions of these bandits will not deter from our responsibility of working for peace and stability in Africa."

Zuma also says the South African government will not support a coup or any kind of subversion of democracy.

The ANC is also measured in its response, saying it is not calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops in the CAR, because an informed political decision needs to be made about the deployment.

The ruling party has since praised the soldiers who died, calling them heroes who served their country with "unflinching commitment"

"The soldiers that have been killed, we believe that they gave up their lives in the interest of ensuring peace and good governance on the continent," said an ANC member.

MAN WAITING TO HEAR ABOUT BROTHER

Meanwhile, a Johannesburg man says authorities have not given his family answers on whether his brother, who is a South African soldier in the CAR, is still alive or not.

Obakeng Letwane has told Eyewitness News his brother Simon Feletswene has been in the region since late last year and now they were battling to get hold of him.

He says the SANDF is only communicating with the media.

"The SANDF doesn't say anything to us and one of the guys that went with our brother's siblings asked me if I know anything and they don't know anything about that."

Letwane also says the SANDF should tell the families of the soldiers who are in the CAR region what is going on.

At the same time, a woman whose sister is in the SANDF says soldiers here have been put on standby to go to the Central African Republic.

Zuma on Monday said he is not considering withdrawing troops from there and could send reinforcements.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she is very afraid for her sister

"She said she's among those who are supposed to go to CAR. It's very sad and I want to tell her to resign because it's not easy especially after reading about what is happening there."