Publication: Cape Argus Issued: Date: 2008-01-23 Reporter: Ella Smook

Claims of Cover-up Precede Release of Lohatla Tragedy Report



Cape Argus




Ella Smook

Web Link


Allegations of a cover-up have already begun prior to the release of the report into the Lohatla tragedy, in which nine soldiers of an anti-aircraft regiment were killed during an SANDF training exericse.

Police confirmed yesterday that their investigation had found that the accident during Operation Seboka was "due to a mechanical error"and "not human negligence".

Although a similar finding is expected from the parallel investigation by the SANDF, both reports have yet to be made public.

Richard Young, the arms contractor who exposed the extent to which the initial *1 2001 arms deal report had been sanitised, says his information indicates that there "had to be negligence" at Lohatla.

The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) said it believed the investigation by the Defence Force into Lohatla was an attempt to cover up for the Department of Defence.

Sandu spokesman Charlton Boer said Sandu "has not seen anything of the report", despite reports that the SANDF's findings had been discussed with the families of the dead and injured soldiers almost two weeks ago.

"They promised the report as soon as they finalised it," Boer said. The union was going on a "fact-finding mission" to Kimberley today.

The police findings are with the provincial police commissioner, from where the docket will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Police spokeswoman Cherelle Ehlers said the police were hoping the DPP would launch a formal public inquest.

The SANDF report is with the Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota, whose spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, said the minister would address the media "in due course".

He would give no further comment.

Days after the October 12 incident, Lekota said in the National Assembly that the accident had happened "immediately after technicians had finished repairing the weapon" a twin-barrel 35mm anti-aircraft gun.

After firing resumed, the gun had swung "completely" to the left and in an eighth of a second, a burst of explosive shells killed nine and injured 15 soldiers manning guns positioned on the left.

It was the first time that the soldiers involved had used live ammunition in a training exercise.

Young said there were three main questions that begged scrutiny:

* Why did a mechanical failure due to a "known possible failure mode" lead to a catastrophic failure and what happened to safety mechanisms such as end-stops?

*  Were the troops operating these guns trained to a level where they could operate them during a live-fire exercise involving thousands of troops and hundreds of observers?

* Why had neither of the two investigation reports been made public, well over a month after their completion?

Young said he did not believe the end-stops, which would prevent the gun from slewing around, were in place.

Not only would these end-stops have prevented the gun from swinging uncontrollably, but once the end-stops were hit, engineering (sic) *2 and hydraulic drives would disengage and the gun would stop working.

Putting end-stops on either side of the gun was "standard" safety procedure and a soldier who neglected to do so could be court-martialed, Young said.

It bordered on "criminal negligence" to have the guns operating "without properly trained people" a view shared by Sandu.

Boer said the troops, some of whom had only been in the SANDF for a year, were not sufficiently trained and the union wanted "a full, independent criminal inquiry".

"If those soldiers were fully trained and the weapons fully checked, that would not have taken place.*3

"Now we want to make sure it never again takes place."

With acknowledgements to Ella Smook and Cape Argus.

*1       Electrical drive - not engineering drive.

*2      It does not border on "criminal negligence" to have the guns operating without properly trained people - it is criminal negligence fullstop - unless possibly it is a time of war.

*3      This is surely true.

*4      But it seems that there was not software involved - especially South African software.

And if there was software involved, it certainly wasn't my software - for, inter alia, the following reasons :