SA to deploy reservists in Mali, DRC

Civilians who have undergone military training could soon be called up for active service and be deployed on potentially deadly peace-keeping operations.

The South African army – already overstretched by peacekeeping deployments across the continent – is fast preparing for the deployment of hundreds of additional troops, including civilian reservists, to peacekeeping missions. There are some 15000 army reservists.

Prior to yesterday’s announcement, President Jacob Zuma said he would strongly consider deploying soldiers to Mali on an African Union peacekeeping mission. If Zuma gives the go-ahead, the deployment could happen early next year.

Army chief Lieutenant-General Amos Masondo yesterday confirmed the urgent requests by Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“We are waiting to hear what needs to be done,” he said.

Masondo said the appointment of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as AU Commission chair would lead to increased demands for South African forces to be deployed elsewhere Africa.

“Unfortunately, we are limited by our numbers. If the request is approved, the forces will have to include lots of reservists.

“We simply do not have enough permanent force members. We are already overstretched in Africa, with hundreds of our troops deployed internally on our borders.”

Masondo said vast amounts of money were currently being spent on training, and that the upgrading of equipment was a priority.

Mali’s government is currently embroiled in violent confrontations with al-Qaeda linked groups trying to overthrow the state.

The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, along with the UN, is currently involved in bloody battles against rebel forces who are armed with heavy artillery and tanks.

The proposed deployments are being considered while 3000 South African soldiers take part in an exercise at the combat training centre in the Northern Cape.

A senior officer – deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010 – said the missions would require more than just a few hundred troops.

“These rebels are not playing around. They have serious numbers and serious fire-power. They are battle-hardened and have been at war for years. If we don’t do this right we will be bringing body bags home,” he said. –