Transformation, Gender Equity and Empowerment in the South African Defence Force: briefing by Department of Defence

Defence

22 June 2011
Chairperson: Mr J Maake (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Defence briefed the Committee on transformation, gender equity and empowerment in the South African Defence Force. The briefing included background information, the involvement of women in the military and the results of research and experience gained. Statistical data on the racial and gender composition per rank was provided. As at 30 April 2011, there were 54,503 (70.6%) Africans; 12,106 (15.7%) Whites; 9,687 (12.6%) Coloureds and 872 (1.1%) Indians. The gender composition was 56,663 males (73.4%) and 20,505 females (26.6%).  The target for female recruits was increased to 40% in 2010.

The Department had introduced a number of awareness programmes aimed at addressing the prevailing patriarchal attitudes within the Defence Force. Other challenges included the suitability of equipment and facilities, ongoing complaints of sexual harassment and the length of deployment on external peacekeeping missions.  The Department’s Instruction on dealing with charges of sexual harassment would be promulgated on 27 June 2011. The Department conceded that the rate of transformation had been unsatisfactory but held the Service and Division Chiefs accountable for implementing the transformation and gender equity policies.

Members of the Committee noted the disproportionate representation of white members in the middle ranks and the relatively low numbers of white recruits joining the SANDF and asked questions to establish the causes of the disparities. The lack of an effective exit strategy was considered to be the major cause for the lack of opportunity for black candidates to fill vacant positions. Other questions were asked about the action taken to address the challenges concerning female soldiers, particularly complaints about sexual harassment. The Committee requested the Department to benchmark the stumbling blocks in achieving the transformation and equity objectives and to specify where the assistance of the Committee was required.

Meeting report

Briefing on Transformation, Gender Equity and Empowerment in the South African Defence Force (SANDF)
Major General Ntsiki Memela-Motumi, Chief Director: Transformation Management, DOD introduced Brigadier General Sazi Veldtman (Director: Human Resources, Army) and Colonel Eugene Joubert (Senior Staff Officer: Leadership) before presenting the briefing to the Committee (see attached document).

The introduction to the presentation outlined the approach followed by the Department of Defence (DOD) to address issues of transformation, human rights and equity within the Defence Force. The Ministry of Defence was committed to achieve gender equality and racial representation, as required in terms of the Constitution and the 1996 White Paper on Defence. 

Female members of the SANDF were surveyed to determine their reasons for joining the military and research was conducted on the status of women in the SANDF.  The research findings indicated that prejudice against women and patriarchal attitudes continued to exist despite acceptance of their involvement in the military.  Female soldiers were deployed in peace support missions in a variety of positions.  Their involvement in peacekeeping missions had resulted in positive outcomes.

The presentation included statistical data on the racial and gender breakdown per rank of the SANDF as at 30 April 2011.  There were currently 56,663 males (73.4%) and 20,505 females (26.6%) in the SANDF.  The target for new female recruits was increased to 40% from 2010. A number of empowerment programmes were introduced to address the prevailing patriarchal attitudes in the SANDF. The performance agreements of all Service and Division Chiefs included the promotion of gender equality. A DOD Instruction on the handling of sexual misconduct would be presented on 27 June 2011 for promulgation.  There were currently 54,503 (70.6%) Africans; 12,106 (15.7%) Whites; 9,687 (12.6%) Coloureds and 872 (1.1%) Indians in the SANDF.

The quarterly and annual reports of Service and Division Chiefs indicated that progress was being made in achieving the gender equality objectives. The support of the Service and Division Chiefs was critical.  Other challenges included the suitability of equipment, disregarding women’s military authority and sexual harassment.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked for an explanation of the divisions in the SANDF.

Brig Gen Veldtman explained that the SANDF comprised the Army, Navy and Air Force services.  Each service had divisions responsible for human resources, intelligence, logistics, catering, etc.  The Service and Division Chiefs reported on the number of women developed in accordance with the strategic plans.  Progress reports on the achievement of staffing targets, training and operational deployment were submitted.

The Chairperson asked if there was statistical data available for women in combat.

Maj Gen Memela-Motumi explained that the statistics provided in the presentation were the corporate overview.

Brig Gen Veldtman provided statistics of the number of women currently involved in operations (a total of 257).  A number of women had opted out of operations and the matter was currently under investigation.  Equipment and facilities were not conducive to female soldiers but the issues were being addressed.

Mr M Steele (DA) asked if training norms and standards were adjusted for women or if the same performance criteria applied to all members of the SANDF.

Mr P Pretorius (DA) observed that a far greater percentage of female members of the SANDF were in administrative positions rather than were deployed in operations.  He asked what the target was for female members.

Mr S Montsitsi (ANC, Gauteng) said that the statistical data provided indicated that the desired level of transformation of the SANDF had not been achieved.  Despite a leadership programme aimed at developing black officers, the number of white officers in the higher ranks remained disproportionately high.  He asked what the reasons were for the continued racial disparity.  He asked what disciplinary action was taken if male soldiers ignored the orders given by female soldiers.  He asked what action was taken by the SANDF to promote the empowerment of women.

The Chairperson observed that the number of white Regular Force members with the ranks of Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel exceeded the number of black members. Conversely, the number of white soldiers at the lower ranks was relatively low.

Maj Gen Memela-Motumi confirmed that the same standards applied to female and male soldiers. Statistical data on the number of female personnel deployed on operations was kept by the respective services.  She conceded that the numbers were not satisfactory and the disparity in the racial composition of the various ranks was the result of historical factors. Few white recruits were joining the SANDF. The achievement of the transformation and equity strategic objectives remained a challenge and was the responsibility of the Services Chiefs. Assertiveness training was provided to female officers and soldiers who disregarded the authority of female officers were charged with insubordination. New technology had improved the gender-friendly aspect of equipment. The new R4 rifles could be adjusted to suit shorter arm-lengths but there was still a problem with the ejection seats in aircraft that were not suited to the smaller, lighter build of women. Women found the uniforms to be uncomfortable and were not represented on the uniform committees. The training programmes were intended to address the prevailing patriarchal attitudes at all levels and crèches were being established to address the child-care concerns of female members.  Women found the six-month deployment period too long to be away from their families but discussions were underway with the United Nations to reduce the period for deployment on peacekeeping operations to three months. The needs of single parents were being addressed as well.  The SANDF had strategic plans in place to address the racial disparity issues. The support of the Service Chiefs was critical but she felt that there should be punitive measures in place for non-compliance.

The Chairperson asked what the reasons were for the low number of white recruits.

Ms M Dikgale (ANC, Limpopo) asked what action was taken against Service Chiefs who failed to comply.

Ms M Mafolo (ANC) felt that the Service Chiefs should be held accountable. She asked for details of the complaints lodged by female members and the cases involving sexual harassment.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC) asked how incidents of sexual harassment were dealt with before the DOD Instruction came into effect.

Ms N Mabedla (ANC) said that charges of sexual harassment were of a serious nature.  he asked what measures were in place to prevent the harassment of women in the Defence Force, what action was taken by the Council on the incidents reported, how many complaints were lodged and what progress had been made to address the issue.

Mr D Bloem (COPE, Free State) found that the situation in the SANDF had not changed during the previous twelve years.  He questioned that women should have sole responsibility for combating HIV/AIDS.  He asked what the stumbling blocks were that prevented the transformation of the SANDF.  He said that the goalposts were constantly moved since 1996 and requested that the Committee was informed exactly where assistance was required.

Brig Gen Veldtman explained that recruitment policy was developed at corporate level.  He could not explain why fewer white recruits joined the Defence Force.  The SANDF had approached schools, Solidarity Union and youth organisations but all efforts to increase the number of white volunteers had failed.  Transformation in the middle ranks was hampered by the limited number of vacant positions.  The white officers remained in their posts and few retired to make way for black candidates. The current exit strategy was unsuccessful.  Although the SANDF had fast-tracking and development programmes in place for black members but there were not enough positions available in the middle ranks.

Maj Gen Memela-Motumi said that more research had to be done and that policy alone was not enough to resolve the issue.  The Service Chiefs sanctioned promotions and was responsible for the implementation of policy.  No statistics were available on the number of sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment was currently dealt with under the category of ‘conduct unbecoming’ and there was no charge sheet for this type of misconduct.  The issue was constantly brought up in meetings but female members complained that no action was taken.  The Chief of the Defence Force had instructed a review of the policy and that sexual harassment was made a prosecutable offence instead of being classified as misconduct.  The implementation of the new instruction would result in more detailed statistical data becoming available.  She conceded that the lack of policy to specifically address sexual harassment had had a negative impact. She agreed that everyone was responsible for combating HIV/AIDS but the issue had no link to the lack of transformation in the SANDF. One of the stumbling blocks was the failure to consistently monitor the implementation of the transformation policy at the senior command levels.  The transformation agenda had to remain visible at all times. Although it was included in the performance agreements of the Service Chiefs, there was a lack of incentive and punitive measures. She lacked the necessary authority to enforce the policy.

Mr L Diale (ANC) remarked that the process of integration required a lengthy period of time to implement fully.  It was not enough to have a recruitment strategy in place. Many matriculants were unemployed but the efforts to recruit school-leavers needed to be increased.

Mr Montsitsi expected Maj Gen Memela-Motumi to drive the transformation agenda and offered the assistance of the Committee.  He would attend the meeting with female officers scheduled for August 2011.  He suggested that targets were set for the Navy, Army and Air Force and that any failure to meet the quotas was reported to the Committee.  The Committee would hold the Service Chiefs accountable.  Specific recommendations regarding misconduct and disciplinary procedures should be made.  There should be a clear distinction between different types of misconduct and he was pleased to note that sexual harassment would be a prosecutable offence in future.

Mr Montsitsi asked what the exit age was for the different ranks. Members of the previous non-statutory forces were expected to purchase pensions while members of the previous SANDF had made pension fund contributions.  This situation had resulted in inadequate pension provision for the members of the previous non-statutory forces and they had to apply for special pensions. He suggested that the challenges were benchmarked and that the Committee was briefed.

The Chairperson asked if the only option was to increase the number of middle rank vacancies. It would be necessary to provide incentives to the incumbents, which would require additional funds to be made available for this purpose.  He asked what the current exit strategy was and if the lack of a strategy was the only reason for the lack of transformation in the SANDF.

Ms Mafolo suggested that Maj Gen Memela-Motumi and the Service Chiefs were invited together to brief the Committee.  She said that there were different types of offences under sexual harassment.

Mr Mlambo recalled that the Parliamentary Committees had discussed the exit strategy with the DOD during previous meetings.  It was agreed that the issue remained an ongoing challenge. There was no destination for persons exiting the military but without an effective exit strategy the disproportionate number of white members in the higher ranks would remain a problem.

Maj Gen Memela-Motumi said that the Service Chiefs were responsible for implementing the transformation policy.  She agreed that the recruitment strategy could be improved.  Much had been done to improve perceptions of the SANDF through the media. Military service was however a calling and should not be seen as merely an employment opportunity. The Minister’s National Youth Programme focused on the youth in rural areas.  Her responsibility was to provide direction for the transformation agenda and to specify what action had to be taken. She had no power of enforcement. Members of the Committee would be invited to attend the conference of women in the military that was scheduled to be held on 17 to 19 August 2011. Although there was a formal link between age and rank, there was no formal exit mechanism in place. Person with the rank of General served for a term of four years but could only be moved sideways once the term had expired.  Most Generals remained in place until retirement.  Certain officers had employment contracts for a specific term but a retirement age of 60 applied to others.  An effective exit strategy would require substantial additional funding. The Minister had appointed work groups in 2010 to investigate the various issues. Recommendations had been made, which were referred to the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary for Defence to develop action plans.  The Defence Amendment Bill provided an opportunity to introduce changes that addressed the issue of sexual harassment.

Brig Gen Veldtman explained that the head of Human Resources had the same rank as the Service Chiefs (i.e. Three Star General) and had equal accountability. The matters concerning the strategy, exit policy and transformation impediments were outside the mandate of the representatives present at the briefing.

The Chairperson reiterated that the lack of an effective exit strategy appeared to be the reason for the lack of progress in transformation in the SANDF.

Maj Gen Memela-Motumi replied that the matter was being addressed by the Minister. The work groups had completed their investigations and had made recommendations.  The ball was now in the court of the Service Chiefs and the Secretary for Defence, who needed to develop implementation plans. Parliament would be involved in the process as additional funding would be required to implement the plans.

At the request of the Chairperson, Mr Bloem delivered the concluding summary.  He deplored the lack of progress in transformation over the preceding 17 years. He said that members of the previous non-statutory forces decided against joining the SANDF because they had found the environment too hostile to them.  Transformation did not mean that white members of the Defence Force were driven out but it was essential to implement Constitutional requirements and to adhere to the Freedom Charter. He thanked the presenters for the briefing.

The meeting was adjourned.




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