OPERATION MISTRAL– DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

South Africa became one of the first African countries to deploy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1999, at the height of fighting that resurfaced in 1998 and involved foreign troops from countries of the Great Lakes region.

The country was war-ravaged for a few years even before it’s then President, Desire Kabila, was shot dead in 2001. The fallout from Kabila's death necessitated the deployment of additional troops under the United Nations Organisation Mission in the DRC, better known by its French acronym, MONUC.

Here the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed Colonel Hans Swart to Kampala in Uganda as part of the Capital Liaison Officers deployed to capital cities of all countries that were involved in the DRC conflict. South Africa is still responsible for this position up to date. Additional deployment was effected in 2001 when MONUC requested an urgent deployment of the SANDF's Aero Medical Evacuation team along with a small advance team from the Command and Support Unit. This was South Africa's first formed element to be deployed in support of an international peacekeeping mission.

The SANDF sent 48 members of its military police to assist with the establishment of the MONUC Military Police Unit. While South Africa's involvement dated back to 1999, large-scale forces were only deployed in 2003. That batch of 1000 consisted of just over 100 soldiers in Kindu, about 600 in Goma, 250 in Beni and the remainder in Kirumba.

With requests from the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operation increasing, South Africa was asked to provide a task force of about 1500 troops, which comprised of the infantry battalion group and an aviation regiment. The SANDF's Engineering Corps, a headquarters' support unit, a medical facility, a Well Drill and ferry units were later added to Operation Mistral. The ferry service was used for a peace monitoring base on Lake Albert, which borders Uganda and north-eastern DRC.

When MONUC established the Eastern Division in 2005, it resulted in the reduction of the South African contribution with the repatriation of the Task Force Headquarters and the Headquarters Support Unit. The composition of Operation Mistral changed in 2006 again when South Africa added the Aviation Unit and withdrew the Well Drill and Ferry units.

This phase of Operation Mistral contributed to taking the DRC to its first democratic elections in 2006, run mainly by MONUC, which elected Joseph Kabila as President President Kabila has expressed gratitude at South Africa's assistance of the DRC. “The government of South Africa invested so much to a solution to a crisis that affected my country for so long. As a citizen of Africa and of the world we are proud of South Africa”. President Kabila also singled out South Africa's Department of Defence in particular for its support of the country's peace’. process, which included the challenging task of assimilating the various armed forces which operated in the DRC during the war.

Business investments began flooding into the DRC after the attainment of peace, helping the country to start rebuilding itself. South African mobile telecommunications network companies, Vodacom and MTN, mining companies, Standard Bank and state-owned electricity provider Eskom have invested in the DRC. Some South African farmers are also growing crops in the DRC. Several international companies also started investing in the minera l-rich Congo after seeing the positive outcome of the peacekeeping mission.

A message from the department:

"The ORC was in a state of war before South Africa volunteered to bring warring parties together and convene talks in Sun City (a holiday resort in South Africa's North West province). The parties stuck to the terms of the peace agreement and we think it's encouraging. Our commitment to peace keeping and security reform in the DRC is based on the principle that the ORC is a very strategic country for the development of Africa".

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu.