Defence Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has paid tribute to around 300 women soldiers deployed on a peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She addressed the female troops stationed at Goma in the east of the country to mark International Women’s Day.

This was ahead of her oversight visit to mission areas where South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members are deployed.

The first stop on Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s oversight visit was an engagement session with women soldiers stationed in Goma.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, the Minister hailed the bravery of the women in uniform in both supporting roles as well as those who have dedicated their life to serve in peace keeping missions on the continent.

Mapisa-Nqakula also recognised the challenges faced by women in the military, saying it is not only about putting your life on the line but also having to prove yourself in an environment that is still male-dominated.

Major Zanele Vayeke, who is the only female pilot deployed in Goma, has defied the patriarchal stereotypes that only men can take on certain jobs within the Defence Force.

Vayeke says she hopes that her journey in the Air Force can motivate and encourage young South African girls to realise that societal expectations should not limit your dreams. Some of the women soldiers took the opportunity to raise challenges they face while in combat.

Mapisa-Nqakula has promised to consult the Defence Force Chief of Staff on how the concerns raised can be addressed.

On Thursday, she will visit the North Kivu base where 15 soldiers have lost their lives since the SANDF’s deployment in 2013.

The Minister will commemorate these soldiers during a wreath laying ceremony.

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– By Noma Bolani