SA soldiers murder-suicide, a symptom of a GBVF crisis

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members deployed in DRC as part of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission. Image: Supplied

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members deployed in DRC as part of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission. Image: Supplied

Published Mar 31, 2024


A South African soldier who shot and killed a fellow soldier believed to be his lover while they were both deployed in the DRC on a mission has raised the alarm among gender-based violence and femicide activists about the crisis.

The duo were part of a contingent of the SANDF deployed in the DRC as part of the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission.

The SANDF said the male soldier shot and killed his female colleague before turning the gun on himself, committing suicide on foreign soil.

Sources within the SANDF revealed that the killer was a married man allegedly having an affair with the women he killed at the Goma base where they were stationed.

According to one source who worked with the couple in the DRC, the two soldiers had had a long-standing romantic affair. “He was a married man in a relationship with the lady …they were working together and spent most of their time together. Most of us knew about their affair but we didn’t think it would end up like this. It seems the lady was not married though,” said the source.

Activists warn that South Africa is faced with a crisis of immense proportions, as certain sectors of society are exempt, by status, from the brutality of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF).

The country has among the highest international violence statistics, where too many women are killed and assaulted by those closest to them.Johannesburg gender-based activist Mirriam Mtetwa said the country was dealing with severe psychological pathologies which stemmed from patriarchy.

“He felt that he owned her, and, as much as it sounds cliche, his mindset would at the time have been that if he could not have her, no one else could,” she said as she lamented, reports about the killing. But this was not enough, said Mtetwa, and pointed to a lack of understanding of the male psychic, the mindset of men who are legally armed, and men with perceived power.

“There are many stories of men killing intimate partners and then killing themselves. Sometimes, they also kill children. While families will carry the pain of losing loved ones, and everyone reacts in shock at the act, no one ever looks at the actual facts and the underlying reason,” Mtetwa said.

“He felt he owned her as much as he owned his wife....and so if she did not want to be with him she deserved to be with no one else. This level of abuse would have already exhibited itself in one or other form and could have led to the termination of the affair. The army and government will investigate, but will they talk to other men and women in uniform, will they make them understand that the power to take a life was not theirs to do with as they please,” Mtetwa asked.

She said in a case like this, as with so many, some of which involve high-ranking officials and men of higher economic standing, they were treated with kid gloves. “When the government formulates programmes to address and intervene in the violence of men against women, they start from the bottom up and stop before they get to the top. This murder-suicide indicates that soldiers, once they are taught to handle a gun, are never analysed for mental capacity and responsibility.

“We know of high ranking government officers who abuse their wives and get away with it, who abuse women in general and get a slap on the wrist or are shifted from one position to the other. The only difference with this man and a few others is, they did not want to be held accountable, so they take their own lives too.”

She said programmes had to target all men, irrespective of who they were and what office they held if the scourge of GBV was to be shattered. “Boys and men need to understand that they have the means and power to survive without hogging all the toys in the playpen. Once this happens the rate of violence will greatly go down, patriarchy will be put into perspective and women and girls can breath.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the deployment as part of South Africa’s commitment to the SADC region, to stay there until December 2024. The budgeted expenditure to be incurred for the employment amounts to just over R2 billion

“In fulfilling South Africa’s international obligation towards the SADC mission to support the DRC, Ramaphosa ordered the employment of 2 900 members of the South African National Defence Force to assist in the fight against illegal armed groups in the eastern DRC,” Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson to the president said.