In a farewell to the troops yesterday near Bloemfontein, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula hammered home the importance of discipline.
“The enemy is everywhere. Do not think that just because you are simply outside your base they are not there,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula, who was in Bloemfontein to commemorate UN Peacekeepers’ Day, paid tribute to the families of the 39 South African peacekeepers who had been killed while on UN missions since 1999.
Addressing the 850 soldiers of 5thSA Infantry Battalion to be de-ployed as part of the UN’s force intervention brigade in eastern DRC, Mapisa-Nqakula said she would not tolerate “nonsense”.
“You have the names of your predecessors to live up to, many of whom gave their lives trying to bring security to vulnerable people.
“This is a UN mission with regulations to obey, the most important being rules against sexual exploitation and assault.
“I do not want to hear of you starting relationships with people in your deployment area because you will be in violation of these rules. These people are vulnerable and look up to you as their protectors,” she said.
A 2015 UN report revealed that South African peacekeepers were among the worst sexual predators on UN peacekeeping missions in Africa.
She urged the troops to carry themselves with pride.
“There are command and control structures in place and these must be adhered to. I am talking to you as your minister and your mother.
“Don’t do things- like visit brothels or take drugs that you wouldn’t do in front of me or your families.
“I am not going to tell you this again. You are in this deployment to show to the world that we can bring peace to Africa.
“If you come home in body bags, let that be because you died fighting like a hero and not because of some other nonsense.”
The area of deployment for the troops is occupied by Islamic extremist group the ADF.
The region, which includes thick jungle near the Rwandan border, is also home to dozens of other militias affiliated to the Mai Mai, and other rebel groups fighting for control of valuable mineral resources.
Masechaba Mokhtothu, whose son Albert Mokhtothu, 26, was killed in the DRC last year, said: “My boy was brave. He died fighting for this country, for Africa, to free her and her people from violence.”
The minister told the families of soldiers who had died on peacekeeping missions that she would advocate for the government to support them properly .
Currently, the families of South African troops who die on UN peacekeeping missions receive a special UN death benefit. But they get no other benefits from the state other than the deceased’s pension.
“The current compensation is not a proper arrangement. There is not a proper allocation from the government or the defence force,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.