In a communication glitch, two South African mercenaries assisting Nigeria in the war against Boko Haram were on Monday killed in error by the military in Bama, Borno State.
A military contractor, Leon Mare Lotz, and his driver, whose name was given simply as Nangombe, were shot dead when a convoy in which they were travelling was mistaken for that of Boko Haram insurgents.
The fatal shooting took place in “pitch dark,” Reuters reported on Thursday.
Text messages to the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major General Chris Olukolade, were not responded to at press time.
Although military sources who spoke with Agence France Presse (AFP) refrained from giving the name of the military contractor, an Afrikaner website called Netwerk 24 gave the names of the victims on Thursday. It also quoted the widow, Almari, as saying: ““I just know Leon was killed. I know that he went to Nigeria with his eyes wide open and was aware that it was a dangerous operation.”
The widow was said to have added: “He was with some of his brothers-in-arms who have walked a path with him for many years.”
A military officer, who AFP said requested anonymity, confirmed the account, describing the death as “friendly fire”.
It said that there was no immediate response from the Federal Government when contacted by AFP about the claims of foreign mercenaries assisting the operation.
Two companies were involved in the training but he did not identify the firms or indicate the trainers’ nationalities or numbers.
Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, spokesman for the South African defence department, said he could not confirm Lotz’s death.
“What I know is from the press but (he’s) not a serving member of the SANDF (South African National Defence Force,” he said, adding that Lotz may have previously been with the military.
Netwerk 24 attributed the killing to a “communication problem between Nigerian soldiers and the South African trainers who help them train.”
It said that the 59-year-old Lotz was a former Koevoetlid and experienced private military contractor. The driver, an Ovambo also died “instantly.”
The shots were said to have been fired by a “Nigerian T72 tank,” while the South Africans were said to have been in a “Reva vehicle.”
It quoted Nigerian military sources as saying that “faulty radio communication contributed to the possible misunderstanding,” and that the assumption was that “a directory with the Revas should move to show them where to go.”
The incident was meant to be a surprise attack on Boko Haram strongholds, the report added.
Lotz and Nangombe were said to have been in the first vehicle.
It said: “The vehicle for the tanks moved past when the Nigerian soldiers opened fire on them. Two shots of the tank hit it, while those and a second Reva was shot full of bullet holes AK47.”
The South Africans were said to have been under a contract with the Federal Government to provide more mobility to give the Nigerian forces.
“The guys deserve good and you can not blame the Nigerian contract was not attractive to them,” Netwerk 24 quoted one informed Beeld as saying, adding that the command group earned apparently N5,882,181.22, (R360 000) per month, while the more “junior” contractors earned about N2,941,090.61 (R180 000.)
– Almari Lotz was quoted as saying on Thursday that her husband’s remains were expected in about two weeks in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the family last Saturday held a memorial service at the Methodist Church in Port Edward. “Afterwards we will all at the ski-boat club, one of Leon’s favorite places to hang out,” she was quoted as saying.