SABC News, Lekota dismisses Aids stats on SANDF, 2 August 2004

Mosiuoa Lekota, the defence minister, has dismissed claims that the combat readiness of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is under threat because of Aids. This follows shocking statistics at a conference in Richards Bay last week which revealed that the SANDF official figure for HIV/Aids infected soldiers stands at 23%. Aids specialists have set a figure of 40%.

Lekota said there is no crisis in the SANDF. He was speaking at the signing of defence cooperation agreements between South Africa and the United Kingdom in Pretoria. The two agreements pave the way for better trained South African Peacekeepers for troubled countries in Africa. Under the first, the United Kingdom will play an advisory role to the SANDF with regard to peacekeeping and in terms of the second, soldiers will be trained for peacekeeping.

Lekota said the development also reflects the commitment of both parties to take joint responsibility to resolve regional issues. However, preparing these soldiers for peacekeeping operations is the least of the problems. A conference revealed that the fighting fitness of South African soldiers may be under threat because of HIV/Aids. Aids experts say that in the first six months of a project started last year, 947 soldiers out of 1 089 who volunteered for testing were HIV positive. Reports also show that the SANDF is losing at least 400 000 working days a year because of the pandemic.

Lekota said: "All that has been said over the weekend is that there continues to be a problem of HIV/Aids in our society, it is also there in the SANDF. I have no new statement or any information. Nor did this workshop have any new researched information about the SANDF.

“There's no crisis in the SANDF. The United Nations requires all soldiers to be tested before they are deployed on peacekeeping missions,” he added.




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