The joint standing committee on defence has ordered an investigation into the alleged serving of rotten food rations to South African soldiers deployed in Mozambique.
PARLIAMENT has ordered an investigation into the alleged serving of rotten food rations to South African soldiers deployed in Mozambique, resulting in a diarrhoea outbreak, as well as delays in making allowance payments.
The joint standing committee on defence has also ordered the Office of the Military Ombud to get its house in order and to end “the starvation of soldiers”.
Independent Media had last week reported on complaints made by soldiers, who produced pictures of rotten food.
The Military Ombud was reporting on its annual activities on Thursday when parliamentarians raised the issue of suspect food being given to soldiers.
Committee chairperson Cyril Xaba told Independent Media that the joint committee had written to Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise, informing her to order the Military Ombud to conduct an investigation into the matter.
“Soldiers are deployed in danger zones where they have no other source of livelihood but depend on their superiors in particular and the deploying state in general. Parliament has provided the defence force with the budget to support and sustain the deployment.
“Parliament has a moral obligation and a political duty to ensure that their safety and mental well-being is not compromised, having sanctioned the deployment. They have a mission to accomplish. They are out there representing the country.”
Xaba said the committee was not satisfied with the response from the SANDF that a delivery truck carrying food rations in Mozambique broke down resulting in food becoming rotten before it arrived at its destination.
He felt the issue of the delivery truck was unacceptable because the SANDF had the airforce to provide air transport capability. Xaba said they had given the SANDF a week to respond on the matter.
The national secretary of the SA National Defence Union, advocate Pikkie Greef, encouraged union members to report the challenges they faced to the union. He said the confidentiality of members’ input was guaranteed.
“If true, it is obviously unacceptable. SANDF members have the right to be fed healthily and hygienically. No military should place its own boots on the ground at risk, that is self-defeating.
“The Department of Defence should have convened a board of inquiry in terms of the Defence Act to avail itself of the cause and accountability of the issue, and not wait for the defence portfolio committee to investigate.
“A board of inquiry has the power to summons any witness/evidence and recommend disciplinary and other steps in order to prevent a similar occurrence, and hold accountable those responsible in the chain of command,” Greef said.
In response, a group of the Special Forces, one of the military components of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission in Mozambique, said they hoped that the investigation would not be manipulated to protect those responsible for the dire conditions they lived under.
“We hope they fix the conditions in the kitchen, which are still appalling. Flies are everywhere and there is not enough water and seemingly no solution to the sustainment of incidents.
“They promised to also pay us in the account for the month of August to November 15, but we have not seen any payments or a document stating when this will be fulfilled. We don’t even know how much is due to us,” said the soldiers.
The SANDF deployed forces in the neighbouring nation as part of the SADC regional stand-by force to help Mozambique defeat its Islamist insurgency in northern Cabo Delgado province.
Last Thursday, the SANDF had conceded that rations meant for a military component deployed in Mozambique were rotten as a result of a mobile pantry storage facility used in the mission area breaking down from October 20 to 24.
“Consequently, rations that were stored were out of a required refrigeration temperature for a period of four days – which got spoilt in the interim. As such the designated health expert based at Macomia, Mozambique, declared these rations unfit for human consumption.
“The SANDF further assisted the component commander in the mission area to procure fresh fruit and vegetables at the local market in accordance with standard procurement protocols,” read an SANDF statement.