SOUTH AFRICA: Government Moves to Halt Exodus of Security Forces to Iraq
The government is working flat-out to prevent thousands of South Africans from leaving the defence force and the police service to go and work in Iraq.
It is believed that more than 4 000 South Africans are currently working in Iraq in various security fields with hundreds leaving for that country every month to provide assistance to the Iraqi interim government and the United States-led coalition forces.
The majority of those working in Iraq are highly skilled professionals trained in the SANDF and SAPS elite units.
South Africans caught working in Iraq without prior permission from the government, can be prosecuted for violating South Africa's Foreign Military Assistance Act (FMAA).
If found guilty of contravening the Act a person can be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail or fined R10 000.
Despite the penalties, thousands of South Africans continue to exploit the Act's many loopholes and flock to Iraq for huge tax-free salaries.
The South African department of defence had employed a task team to establish whether amendments were needed to be made to the Act to prevent South Africans from working in Iraq, declared a "theatre of war" by the South African government.
The amendments wanted and needed are believed to include stiffer penalties for contravening the FMAA and the ability for authorities to arrest those planning on working in Iraq before they leave South Africa. Also, a special investigative team is to be established to prosecute both those planning on working in Iraq and those who recruit South Africans for work in Iraq.
Fred Marais, director of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), refused to deny or confirm whether a team had been established to see if amendments to the Act were needed. He referred all questions to the department of defence.
The NCACC is responsible for regulating the FMAA and the National Conventional Arms Control Act.
Defence spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi confirmed that a team was investigating whether amendments needed to be made to the FMAA.
"The team, which has been working on this project for some time, will submit its findings to the minister of defence who will pass them to the Justice Crime Prevention Cluster."
Should amendments be needed, the team's findings will then be submitted to cabinet for a decision before being sent to parliament.
"The team's work is regarded as urgent because of the latest developments within the SANDF and the SAPS," he said.
Asked to clarify what he meant by developments, Mkhwanazi said he was referring to the large number of skilled people leaving the SANDF and SAPS to provide security services in Iraq. "The government is worried about the loss of highly skilled specialists."
He warned those leaving for Iraq that "just because the Act is being reviewed does not mean that people caught contravening it cannot be prosecuted".