South African President Jacob Zuma has vehemently defended the deployment of soldiers in the Central African Republic, saying the troops went there to defend national and continental interests.
Zuma is facing an unprecedented public outcry and widespread criticism following the deaths of 13 soldiers in CAR last month.
The South African president instead insisted the soldiers were heroes, who should be praised for their bravery.
"The soldiers waited like tigers for my command and fought like lions until the end," Zuma said while addressing hundreds of mourners in Pretoria at a special memorial service for the soldiers.
"We salute them and honour them for the supreme sacrifice they paid for the achievement of peace in Africa.
"Our servicemen died for a worthy cause. They died in defence of the country's foreign policy.
"They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent and the promotion of peace and stability."
Zuma said South Africa sent soldiers to the CAR in line with an agreement signed in 2007 in which Africa's largest economy would train the CAR army.
But questions linger on why the army was sent to one of the continent's hotspots, with sceptics saying the troops went there to defend private rather than national interests.
The ANC has denied that the party has any business interests in the CAR.
"We are not in the business of business; we are in business of politics, and our business of politics has been done in South Africa," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.
"We are not in the business of diamonds, we are in the business of politics."
On Monday opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would be tabling an urgent parliamentary motion to force Zuma to withdraw all troops from CAR.
Its defence spokesman, David Maynier said this should include "troops reportedly sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda" in operations linked to the CAR mission.
DA leader Helen ZIlle said, "the conclusion is inescapable that the South African troops were deployed to defend the faltering and dictatorial Bozize regime."
Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) said troops are being withdrawn from the CAR.
"What we know now is that only 18 soldiers still remain in [the] CAR, at least 200 of them have been withdrawn and dropped off [at] the border," spokesman, Pikkie Greeff said.
There has been no comment from the South African National Defence Force about the withdrawal.
Zuma is set to attend an extraordinary summit of the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States in N'Djamena on Wednesday.