JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – President Jacob Zuma on Friday hit back at people demanding answers about the deaths of 13 South African soldiers deployed to the Central African Republic, warning they threaten state security.
“Political parties and commentators should be careful not to delve into operational matters that could endanger state and personnel security,” the presidency said in a statement.
Zuma on Thursday announced that the remaining South African soldiers would be withdrawn from the poor and violence-prone country after a bloody rebel coup.
Thirteen South African troops died and 27 were wounded — three critically — on March 23 when they came under fire from Seleka rebel fighters near the capital Bangui. Several thousand rebels toppled the regime the following day.
Zuma now faces thorny questions over why South Africa had troops in the country in the first place, amid accusations of dodgy deals with ousted president Francois Bozize.
The government has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“Do you think we would take the South African National Defence Force, send them out to go and defend or protect what belongs to individuals? It’s so incorrect,” Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told lawmakers Thursday during a testy debate.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s appearance prompted outrage from the opposition, when Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) supporters appeared to employ parliamentary stalling tactics to stifle the debate.
Opposition defence spokesman David Maynier described the hearing as “a disgrace,” accusing the ANC chair of trying “desperately to make sure that the hard questions were suppressed, and eventually that the meeting was closed.”
“The committee was a national and international embarrassment,” he said.
On Friday the presidency strongly denied opposition allegations that Zuma failed to adequately inform the public and parliament about the deployment, which at one time numbered more than 200 troops.
“The public’s right to know was taken into account and will continue to be, but without disclosing military strategies and tactics which would endanger lives and state security,” the statement said.