Minister questioned about CAR deployment

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says SA soldiers were in the CAR to protect personnel & property.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: Sapa

JOHANNESBURG - Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Thursday outlined exactly why South African soldiers were stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The minister and department officials met with Parliament's joint standing committee on defence in Cape Town.

Mapisa-Nqakula told Members of Parliament (MPs) that she never anticipated that South African soldiers would be attacked.

"The Special Forces and others were not deployed to CAR to conduct training. They were there to protect personnel responsible for training and our property."

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said removing South African troops from that country was a political decision.

Earlier on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma announced his decision to withdraw troops from the embattled country.

This after 13 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers were killed when rebels took control of the capital Bangui in March.

Nkoana-Mashabane said government would not have any dealings with an unconstitutional country.

"The position of the [African Union] is clear - there could be no recognition of any government that comes to power through unconstitutional means, especially a military coup that took place in CAR."

Defence expert Helmut Heitman said the withdrawal of troops would not weaken or damage South Africa's reputation across the African continent.

Heitman said pulling out immediately after the battle would have appeared like the troops were running away.

But now that the political winds changed, the situation was different.

"In many instances, the problem is there has to be some sort of follow through and we need to make sure there is intelligence because this time it was weak."

At the same time, Radio France International journalist Cyril Ben-Simon stood by his sources who claimed more than 30 South African soldiers were killed in the CAR.

Ben-Simon said the rebel general who spoke to him had never lied before.

"After the battle he said to me, personally, he saw 36 bodies of dead South African soldiers."

The SANDF dismissed the claim.