President Jacob Zuma speaks at a memorial service in Pretoria on Tuesday for the 13 South African soldiers who died in battle in the Central African Republic last month. Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma speaks at a memorial service in Pretoria on Tuesday for the 13 South African soldiers who died in battle in the Central African Republic last month. Picture: GCIS

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma did not tell Parliament the truth about the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Central African Republic (CAR). The president is required to inform Parliament "promptly and in appropriate detail" about any deployment of the SANDF. This is an important provision to prevent him deploying the defence force in "secret wars" without the knowledge of the public or Parliament.

In the past, authorisation letters have sometimes taken months to reach Parliament. However, this time, Parliament was informed about the deployment in record time. Within 10 days of the deployment, an authorisation letter had arrived in Parliament — but it did not contain "appropriate detail". The letter was misleading about at least two details: the reasons for the deployment and its financial effects.

That is why I made the very serious allegation at the time that Parliament had been misled about the deployment. The allegation caused a political flap and Zuma subsequently "clarified" his position in a second authorisation letter.

There are, therefore, two authorisation letters concerning the deployment, both suspiciously dated January 7, which were both eventually tabled in Parliament on February 8.

However, in trying to clarify the position, Zuma tripped himself up. On the reasons for the deployment, the first letter says: "Members of the SANDF employed will assist with capacity building of the CAR Defence Force and will also assist that country with planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process".

This was never plausible. The SANDF was deployed into what amounted to a civil war and there would surely have been little opportunity to assist with capacity building, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. And besides, if those were the reasons for deployment, why deploy an elite combat formation such at the Parachute Regiment?

However, the second letter says: "… this employment will run up to the end of the duration of our MOU (memorandum of understanding), however if the situation improves in the intervening period, we will revise the protection element…".

"Protection element"? What "protection element"? There was no mention of a "protection element" in the first letter, proving Parliament had not been told the whole truth.

Whatever the case, the second letter suggests that the SANDF was not deployed to provide capacity building, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, as Zuma claimed.

The reason the defence force was deployed was ostensibly to protect, presumably, the training team, South African business interests in the CAR, and perhaps even former president Francois Bozizé himself.

The chief of the SANDF, Gen Solly Shoke, subsequently confirmed this at a press conference on March 15, when he informed the public that the SANDF "deployed a support and protection team" to the CAR.

On the financial effects, the first letter says: "The expenditure expected to be incurred for this employment is R65,055,000 (sixty-five million and fifty-five thousand rand)."

The figure was also not plausible.

However, the second letter says: "I wish to clarify that the stated estimated costs of sixty-five million and fifty-five thousand rand (R65,055,000.00) is for the period 3 January 2013 to 31 March 2013, part of which is from the current defence vote. No provision has been made yet for the financial year 2013-14 for this employment. However, the Department of Defence estimates that approximately twenty-one million rand (R21,000,000) per month will be required."

In other words, the cost, over five years, assuming no major escalation in the force level, had suddenly skyrocketed to R1.2bn. This raised a question about why we would want to spend so much money on the CAR, when we have no public funds for the safeguarding of our own border.

In the end, Zuma zigzagged his way around the constitution, making history by submitting two authorisation letters about the deployment, and in so doing tripping himself up about the reasons for the deployment.

Zuma’s mistake was not just the lie, but the fact that the lie was not consistent. That is why we need a full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the deployment of the SANDF in the CAR.

David Maynier, MP, is the Democratic Alliance’s defence spokesman.