JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer has urged South Africa’s government to be more cautious about deploying peacekeepers abroad, after 13 troops died in the Central African Republic.
Gordimer told AFP the deaths of soldiers in the remote Saharan nation were “very, very troubling,” and should raise questions about the imminent deployment of more troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It seems in the Central African Republic we have blundered rather badly,” the 1991 laureate said.
“And now it’s the Congo. There is a lot of talk about this and indeed a great deal of disagreement.”
At least 13 South African troops died and 27 were wounded on March 23 when they came under fire from rebel fighters near the capital Bangui.
President Jacob Zuma has since faced thorny questions about why the troops were there, amid accusations of dodgy deals with ousted president Francois Bozize.
The government has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“That role in the Central African Republic is very, very troubling and it’s very difficult to understand,” the 89-year-old Gordimer said from her Johannesburg home.
Gordimer said it was “wonderful” that South Africa was willing to help solve African crises, but cautioned the government against getting in out of its depth.
“It now brings a kind of obligation,” she said. “You may indeed (be) helping to support the wrong side — in some cases the government is the wrong side and the other cases, it’s the rebels.”
In coming weeks, South Africa will deploy to the restive eastern Congo, part of a United Nations force that will, for the first time, have a mandate to conduct offensive operations.
“It seems, morally, that we should not send our troops to kill when we are not quite sure what it’s all about,” said Gordimer.
South Africa will muster, along with Tanzania and Malawi, a UN brigade to fight armed groups in the mineral-rich region gripped by conflict for more than two decades.
The M23 rebels have urged the South African parliament to not contribute troops to the brigade, and warned that they would retaliate if attacked by the UN peacekeeping brigade.
Throughout her literary career Gordimer has been a powerful voice in South African public life, at first as a member of the now-ruling ANC and as an anti-apartheid activist.
She had several works banned by the apartheid regime.
Last year she was deeply critical of police violence that killed 34 striking miners and the government’s failure to tackle inequalities.