Outrage Over Soldiers Killed in Central African Republic

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Marco Werman: The news has a hopscotch quality to it sometimes. Take what's going on in the Central African Republic. Rebels overthrew the government there recently and yet the story's been having a major impact many miles away in South Africa. The World's Carol Hills follows political cartoons from around the globe and that's where she first noticed this story. Carol, tell us what's going on here.

Carol Hills: Well, it has to do with the fact that on March 23 in the Central African Republic, 13 South African soldiers died. And it turns out they were fighting the rebels there who were about to topple the president of Central African Republic, Francois Bozize. So the question by many South Africans is what were they doing there? And it's caused a huge uproar. Thirteen died, 27 were wounded and it turns out there were 200 South African soldiers there defending the capital.

Werman: I mean you can imagine the uproar in this country if US soldiers were killed in another country and we had no idea what they were doing there. So what does President Jacob Zuma of South Africa say these South African soldiers were doing in Central African Republic?

Hills: Well, Jacob Zuma says his soldiers were there because of a 2007 agreement with the Central African Republic. And they were there to help train and bolster the military, that this was all sort of an advisory role. And then when things started to deteriorate at the beginning of the year, more soldiers were sent and they weren't there to fight, they were there to protect the South African trainers. But not a lot of South Africans are buying this story. One of the reasons is a member of the South African military said we had some interests to protect there, but he hasn't explained that and it's contradicting what Jacob Zuma says the soldiers were doing there. So there's a lot of anger. There's a sense that maybe they were there to protect mining interests. And the fact that they died right alongside Central African Republic forces defending the capital makes everybody feel like well, at best they were propping up a dictator. What makes it even more chilling is that a lot of the people they ended up killing, the South African soldiers, were children. And so this has brought up issues of the rebels had child soldiers, so everything about this just is pretty awful.

Werman: So a violent episode, several mysteries as to what actually is going on…must be showing up in pretty lively ways in cartoons.

Hills: It is and it comes down to two types of cartoons. And the first is the staying power of Jacob Zuma. There's been a lot of scandals through Jacob Zuma's presidency, now there's these deaths of the South African soldiers, so one shows him in a boxing ring and he's holding up his belt after a victory and saying, "Ultimate Survivor" on belt. And another one he's walking by what looks like a tomb of the unknown soldier, but instead on the tomb it says, "Tomb of the unknown reason we sent troops into Central African Republic in the first place." So that's the first type. The second type of cartoon is kind of more gruesome and it's about the cost of this venture in Central African Republic. One of the cartoons shows a line of South African soldiers walking off a gang plank into a meat grinder, and on the meat grinder it says CARnage. C-a-r is for the Central African Republic. Another one there's a two panel cartoon. The first panel you have a score and it says Home, and it says South African soccer player and the score is South Africa 2, Central African Republic nothing. So South Africa is the winner there. And in the panel on the right you have a Away, and you have another score, and it's Central African Republic 13, South Africa nothing…13 being the soldiers. But it's a real concern and the story is not going away. People want answers. They feel like there's contradictions with what the South African government is saying, and this will be an issue for a while.

Werman: Those cartoons that Carol described as well as others will be at theworld.org. The World's cartoon editor, Carol Hills, thanks for chatting with us.

Hills: You're welcome, Marco.