President Jacob Zuma has announced his decision to withdraw the 800-odd South African National Defence Force troops who have been participating in Unamid. SANDF soldiers in Darfur will be withdrawn on the 1st of April.
This was made known in a statement released by the presidency on Wednesday which read in part:
“President Jacob Zuma has terminated the employment of members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in Darfur, Sudan.”
“Members of the SANDF were employed in Darfur in 2008 as part of the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID),” Presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola said in the statement.
The president also used the medium to express his profound gratitude to all SANDF members who had participated in “bringing peace” to Darfur.
Zuma gave no reason for his decision. However, he was happy that peace has been restored in Darfur. South Sudan’s crisis, especially in the central Jebel Marra mountainous region of Darfur has attracted international attention because of the intense fighting there.
However, Military expert Helmoed Romer Heitman surmised that Zuma’s decision to withdraw the SANDF from Darfur might be justifiable because the SANDF is apparently overstretched financially and the force now has few infantry as a result of its deployments in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and on its border protection mission.
Speaking on the matter, presidential spokesperson Bongani Majola opined that the troops withdrawal had nothing to do with belt-tightening by South Africa rather, it has more to do with the completion of the mission by the defence force.
South Africa deployed about 1 400 South African Defence Force soldiers to Darfur as part of a combined African Union/United Nations peace mission (Unamid).
In June 2015, the Defence Ministry reassured South Africans that its peacekeepers in Sudan are safe after reports emerged that they were held hostage to ensure President Omar al-Bashir was not arrested. Moreso, SA Defence Ministry’s Siphiwe Dlamini refuted the allegations that South African troops were held hostage.
“Our commander in Darfur met with the other agencies, particularly the Sudanese government commanders in the area. They held a meeting on Monday the 15th and they have a good working relationship,” he said.
Al-Bashir was declared wanted on charges that include genocide and crimes against humanity and as such, the High Court in Pretoria had ordered government to detain him last year, on charges brought by the International Criminal Court (ICC), but it emerged that he was already on a plane home.
In September 2015, SANDF reported that an SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldier died and another was seriously wounded in an ambush in Sudan’s Darfur region on.
“However, it is with sadness [that we announce] that one member lost his life while another was seriously injured. Particulars of the deceased will be released once the family or next of kin have been informed,” SANDF said in a statement.