Publication: Cape Argus Issued: Date: 2008-01-28 Reporter: Ella Smook

Lohatla Report Summary Puts Blame Squarely on Gun Manufacturer



Cape Argus



Reporter Ella Smook

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The summarised report into the Lohatla military tragedy does not address allegations of negligence directed at the Department of Defence.

On Friday, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota released a summary of the findings of a probe into the October military catastrophe, when nine soldiers from an anti-aircraft regiment were killed during Operation Seboka.

But Department of Defence spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said last week that he "(didn't) know" if the full report would be made public.

Lekota said the probe found that a mechanical failure had occurred on a 35mm Mark V twin-barrel gun during a live-fire exercise on October 12. The gun had "uncontrollably rotated to the left and fired without operator control".

Nine soldiers to the left of the faulty gun were killed, 13 were "seriously injured" and two were "slightly" injured in a burst of explosive shells which lasted an eighth of a second.

"(T)he interface between the hand/motor actuator selector lever and the traverse gearbox broke during engagement *1. This was caused by a pin that sheared and disengaged the control mechanism rendering the gun uncontrollable when it was fired," the investigation revealed.

Lekota said a similar pin failure had occurred in another (unspecified) country and that the manufacturer had failed to inform South Africa about the incident.

While the department is laying the responsibility squarely at the door of the arms manufacturer, arms experts in reports over the weekend echoed the question raised by arms contractor Richard Young last week, when he queried why a "mechanical failure" became a "catastrophic failure". The summarised report did not address the issue.

With acknowledgements to Ella Smook and Cape Argus.

*1       This is not an explanation of why the gun fired uncontrollably - it is merely a bit of possibly related detail.