Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2003-09-11 Reporter: Nikki Moore

Despair in the Defence Force



Mail & Guardian

Date 2003-09-11


Nikki Moore

Web Link


There is a seething discontent in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Critics say that integration has failed, communication has broken down, grievance procedures are counterproductive and good leadership is absent. Urgent recommendations and requests to officialdom have languished disregarded for more than two years.

Since 2001 the Former Black South African Defence Force (SADF) Members Forum has been clamouring to be heard. There has been no response to communiqués sent to the president and the defence minister. The forum represents black soldiers who joined the former SADF before 1994 and served alongside white soldiers. While their white colleagues have apparently been forgiven for their role in oppression, the black foot soldiers of the apartheid regime are still seen as "collaborators".

"We have been prejudiced, rejected and sidelined," said forum spokesman Fikile Mkhwanazi. "We were not given a choice about integration and we were not consulted about the process. We have been trying to get the government to listen to us, but instead they call us hooligans and have us arrested ... The government is busy sending troops to the Congo to sort out their problems but the problem at home has not been sorted out."

Brigadier General Philip Schalkwyk of the Democratic Alliance's standing committee on defence agrees. On such missions, he said, "our shortcomings are being exposed on the world stage."

According to Schalkwyk, transformation in the SANDF has failed in the lower ranks. "There is a theoretical grievance procedure but in practice it does not work. Any soldier who complains to his superior officer is immediately labelled as a troublemaker and is targeted for punitive discipline."

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) represents white former SANDF members, former liberation fighters and troops from the former homelands. Sandu national secretary Cor van Niekerk said the government shows no willingness to communicate. "We have been waiting for more than a year to have a meeting with either the Department of Defence or the defence portfolio committee."

Thandi Modise, chairperson of the portfolio committee on defence, admitted, Everyone is unhappy. Two years ago, a report to us (by SANDF) showed that integration had failed. The committee attempted to compel the Department of Defence to review the whole process. But nothing is happening."

In 1994 the army stood at 124 000 members. Parliament then approved an integrated force of 76 000, as recommended by the portfolio committee. The army now stands at 59 000, but Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota wants to remove a further 8 000 members from what is proportionally the fourth-smallest army on the African continent. Sandu got a court interdict in July this year to stop Lekota making more cuts.

Since 1994 liberation fighters have been promoted ahead of former SANDF soldiers. In general, said Schalkwyk, "there is a lack of good command".

Sandu said Modise was supposed to tackle the issue. But, said Van Niekerk, "we have been trying in vain to contact her. (We have been) sending letters to her and asking for meetings for more than a year."

Modise has her own problems getting attention. "Our committee has been trying to get noticed for two years," she said. "I've had to reprimand the minister in Parliament over his attempt to diminish the defence force. We have been calling for two years for a review of the promotion policy. We have had no response."

The Ministry of Defence has very little to say in its own defence. Spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi brushed off criticisms, claiming to be unaware of the forum's attempts to talk to the minister.

"As far as grievances are concerned, there are procedures and protocols in place. All members should be using these protocols and procedures." He would not comment further.

According to Van Niekerk, however, "The grievance procedure doesn't exist. The chain of command on which the old grievance procedure was based was closed down in 1996."

With acknowledgements to Nikki Moore and the Mail &Guardian.