South African National Defence Reserve Force on its mandate; capacity; challenges; and action plan


04 June 2015
Chairperson: Mr E Mlambo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) briefed the Committee on the status and revitalization of the Force’s reserves. The main issues raised during the presentation dealt with transformation, budget cuts and constraints, training and the intake of reserves.

Transformation in the Defence Force was happening at a slow rate, particularly with regard to gender. Currently women comprised only 23.5% of the reserves, although the target was 30%. Transformation was also skewed at the higher ranks, and was not representative of the country’s demographics.

Budget constraints and cuts were highlighted as a great challenge. The Revitalisation and Transformation Plan, and many of the SANDF’s other objectives, were all dependent on the availability of funds, and currently the budget was under pressure. This had a number of consequences. It affected and hindered transformation, because the Force could not afford to have training for promotion and leader group development. It also affected and compromised the functioning of various military units. There had been a lack of training in a number of key areas, due to budget challenges.

The Defence Force had reached its first milestone goal of having 15 000 reserves. The current reserve strength was 22 576. The second milestone had been set at a goal of 25 000 reserves, while the ultimate goal was to have 82 000 reserves. The average age of the reserves was 39. This was problematic and a concern because it meant action at the frontline was compromised. The ideal average age was 29.

The Committee asked for the Defence team to elaborate on their plan for national youth development. Members asked what the challenges were when it came to calling up reserves, and how those challenges were dealt with. They wanted more detail on how transformation looked like within the system, and expressed dissatisfaction at the 30% goal for female representation, especially since there were more women than men in the country. They did not accept budget constraints for training as a reason for lack of transformation among the top ranks.

Concern was expressed about the lack of manpower for safeguarding the country’s borders, and the SANDF was asked for this important issue to be addressed. A Member also said that prior to 1994, there had been 400 000 reserves, and he wanted to know why there were now less than 23 000.

Because of time constraints, the Defence Force was asked to respond to Members’ questions by e-mail. 

Meeting report

SANDF: Status and Revitalisation of the Reserves
Major General Ray Anderson, Chief Defence Reserves, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) presented on the status and revitalization of the reserves. He explained why the Force needed reserves, saying that they were good for citizenship and nation building, and popularized the Defence Force. The Force provided the reserves with access to scarce or expensive skills, which was beneficial to the individual. It provided surge capacity when needed. The existence of reserves was a legal requirement, and was required by the White Paper on Defence 1996 and the Defence Review 2014.

Reserves were less expensive than regulars. Reserves currently accounted for only 7% of the South African Army’s salary budget. Reserves provided up to 50% of deployments in South Africa, especially for border safeguarding. The Defence Review required at least 8% of personnel expenses to be spent on Reserves.

In support of the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans (MOD and MV) priorities in the area of human resources renewal, a policy and strategy on the revitalisation and transformation of reserves would be promulgated and implemented systematically in the medium-term, as allowed by available resources. The policy would ensure that the reserves had a feeder system that gave them the required capacity to execute their duty, receive appropriate training support, form part of the standing and surge military capability and inherent force design, provide the expansion capacity of the SANDF, and provide certain specialist scarce skills, such as those required for post-conflict reconstruction.

Regulars and reserves received the same training and were held to the same standard. The only difference between the two was that the reserves were not members of the union -- they were not unionized but they were part of the grievance structure.

The role of the reserves, according to the Defence Review, was to augment the regulars in ongoing operations and day-to-day activities of the Defence Force, form part of standing and surge military force capability, provide expansion capability for major combat operations and crisis response, provide certain specialist and scarce skills to the Defence Force for reconstruction and development, and enhance the relationship between the Defence Force, the public and the private sectors. Reserves were employed at all levels of the SANDF and in most divisions.

People who joined the reserve force were usually ex-regulars who had retired. They usually came back and requested to become a reserve. They were also from the regulars, the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) and from direct recruitment. There was a newly approved concept for the reskilling of unemployed reserves, which was aimed at leading to development in rural areas, and a military agri-village concept was being formulated.

The Defence Force had reached its first milestone goal of having 15 000 reserves. The current reserve strength was 22 576. The second milestone had been set at a goal of 25 000 reserves, while the ultimate goal was to have 82 000 reserves.

Transformation within the Force was taking place, but at a slow rate with regard to gender. The goal for female recruitment had been set at 30%, but currently females constituted 23.5% of the Defence Force.

Major General Anderson said that diversity and transformation was skewed at the higher ranks, and that this was due to the fact that the Force lacked the funds to train people for promotion. The average age of the reserves was 39. This was problematic and a concern because it meant action at the frontline was compromised. The ideal average age was 29.

The University Reserve Training Programme (URTP) was a SANDF programme in all four services. It was aimed at the recruitment and training of mainly undergraduate and postgraduate students with specific skills and leadership characteristics, with the objective of qualifying them for appointment into the military leadership positions. The South African Army was currently restructuring the system, based on the pilot.

Major General Anderson referred to the achievements of the SANDF. There has been a change in demographics since 1994. Deployments had been highly rated by organizations such as the United Nations.   Eight Defence Provincial Liaison Councils had been formed for employer support. A Navy Reserve indaba had taken place, where the plan to revitalise the South African Navy Reserve had been approved by C Navy, and it was being operationalized. The South African Navy Reserves were being used in combat, technical, and training environments. The SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) Command Council had approved the SAMHS reserves strategy that was under development. The ex-combatants had been integrated. The regulations to the Defence Act had been published in 2009, and whereas it previously stated that reserves could be called up in times of war, it now allowed for reserves to be called up in times other than war. The Act had been amended in 2012. The reserves were highly skilled in shooting, and had won at the Dutch shooting camp. They were the military skills competition world champions. They enjoyed local and international success, and were highly skilled. The reserves were addressed and supported extensively in the Defence Review and Commander’s Intent. The SANDF Educational Trust supported 64 children, of whom 11 were dependents of reserves.

The Military Command Council had approved the revitalisation and transformation plan in September 2011, but it had been subject to the availability of funds. The plan had seventeen elements and addressed all the identified challenges on revitalisation and transformation. The plan was in line with the Defence Review, but its full implementation was threatened by budget cuts and budget constraints.

Areas addressed in the revitalisation plan were design, structure, types, role, size, leader group, footprint, unit names, training, legislation, service benefits, utilization and management. The plan also addressed the challenge of converting unemployed reserves to reserves with civilian jobs. This was an ongoing process, which involved skills development, job placement, and incentives for reserves and employers.

The MSDS feeder system had not been effective or sufficient. Consequently there had been a limited flow of new recruits into the South African Army and SAMHS reserves. This meant the tempo of deployments would not be maintained, with an ageing reserve and slow transformation in leadership. Continuation training was insufficient, and all services needed to invest more in training. The non-infantry units were at a disadvantage and their capability was under threat because of the lack of training. The lack of training also affected transformation. There were inadequate funds for leader group development in all services, and that affected transformation. The names of army and SAMHS units were currently under review. The plan was   to make them more representative and balanced, and to reflect the country’s past and present.

Major General Anderson described the way forward for the SANDF. This included the implementation of the Defence Review and Commander’s Intent; the finalisation of the Force Design; a greater focus on transformation; the revision of MSDS, including job placement and separate reserve intakes (a new Defence reserve intake system); the extension of the South African Reserve Force footprint by 65%; providing potential support to the developmental agenda; extending its role in rural development; the roll out of the University Reserve Training Programme (URTP) to all provinces; reviewing legislation, such as the Defence Act, Discrimination by Employer, and the Moratorium Act 25 of 1963; and reviewing the Reserve Regulations to the Defence Act. All the above was dependent on the budget.

In conclusion, Major General Anderson highlighted the key issues. These were the need for training, the impact of budget cuts and constraints, and the need for a new intake of reserves. Significant progress had been made with deployments and the URTP. There was commitment in the SANDF and support in the Defence Review. The focus was now on feeder systems, continuation training, leader group development and transformation. All of this was subject to the availability of funds and man-days.

The Chairperson thanked Major General Anderson and his team for the detailed presentation. He asked for an elaboration on the plan for national youth development and the other issues surrounding it.

Colonel Ray van Zanten, SSO Infantry Reserves, South African Army, said the National Youth Service focused on small towns and surrounding areas. It recruited youngsters from the rural areas because the Defence Force wished to contribute to the Rural Development Plan. Most of the youngsters in these areas were not afforded the opportunity to take part in leadership type programmes. The Defence Force approached schools in these areas, specifically looking at grade ten and grade eleven learners, and negotitated with the school to have them come and train with them during the holidays and over weekends. This was called the Young Mind System. The system focused on teaching the youngsters skills such as discipline, field craft and drilling. He said the students really enjoyed the programme. When the students had completed matric, they had the opportunity to join the Military Skills Development System, which lasted for two years. The students were paid a salary over the two years, and received a bonus of R18 000 at the end of the two years. The students were equipped and taught engineering-type skills so that when they went back to their communities they could impart their skills and help with and contribute to the development of the community. The Defence Force leadership helped to assist development. stated that the military force had billions of rands, but none of those billions were spent on rural areas, and the National Youth Service sought to rectify that.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) asked what challenges, if any, the Department faced when calling on reserves and how those challenges were being dealt with. She asked what the estimated budget for the reserves was, and whether there was any way of addressing the challenge of budget cuts and budget constraints. She sought clarity on whether any effort was being made by the Department to align the reserves with Milestone 1.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) said using inadequate funds and the lack of training for promotion as an excuse for the lack of transformation in the Defence Force was not justified. He asked what was happening with those who had been in the system for a long time. He asked for transformation to be broken down into different categories if possible so that the Committee could understand what was happening within the system with regard to transformation, inequality and equity. He said that blacks were dominating in numbers, but he wanted to know what that looked like within the system, in terms of equity and higher positions. He commended the presentation, but it had not paid enough attention to the big issue of transformation.

Ms L Dlamini (ANC) commended the Defence Force for their patriotic spirit and serving the country, bud said she was very unhappy with the gender representation in the Defence Force. The excuse of a lack of skills hindering transformation was not adequate. The Defence Force needed to open up opportunities for women. She asked why the target for women was 30% and not 50%, and felt that it was not representative of the population, which had more women than men. She commended the project for renaming of army and SAMHS units, and agreed with Major General Anderson that it would be difficult because people were opposed to change. The project was progressive. She supported the idea of reskilling the unemployed and suggested that other sectors should look at similar projects because this could positively affect the state of unemployment in the country. She also commended National Youth Service programme.

Mr B Bongo (ANC) commended the university recruitment conducted by the Defence Force. He asked how the Force would ensure the involvement of the two new universities, Sol Plaatjie University in the Northern Cape and the University of Mpumalanga in Mpumalanga, that had recently been established in this programme. He agreed with Ms Dlamini that the issue of gender equality was at the centre of transformation. He asked how young people in the Defence Force and military veterans were being integrated. He asked for further information on the lack of manpower for border safeguarding, because it was a very serious matter.

Mr S Esau (DA) said that it was very clear there was a need to arrest the decline in the reserves, and that the forces need to be rejuvenated. The General needed to elaborate on why the age of 29, as opposed to 39 years old, was important when it came to the Force, as it raised concern that an active soldier’s performance at the frontline might not be effective. According to the report, there was a 66% success rate with the MSD programme. How accurate was that figure? Was there a system of tracking these students, and where they were placed and recruited, because according to the youth he spoke to, there was a very high unemployment rate? He spoke about the approach to military veterans, which involved reskilling and retraining so they could find jobs in industry, and suggested that the reserves should be afforded the same opportunity. The reserves were currently dependent on receiving call-ups from the force, calling them for duty. They were unemployed. The current structure and agreement did not afford them a pension or medical aid. The Department and Defence Force should make an effort to find the reserves decent jobs. A broader discussion and commitment needed to be made to around addressing these issues. He commended the commitment of getting the reserves involved in rural development, but questioned why these initiatives were not being coordinated with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Rural Development, because those departments had special funds dedicated to such projects. More coordination, collaboration and synergy needed to take place.

Mr Esau asked what the unemployment rate was for the reserves. He suggested that the Force should extend its recruitment of students to other higher education institutions such as technikons and colleges in order to recruit more students. He was confused as to why the presentation had spoken about revitalising the force design -- what did that mean and what were they specifically going to look at? He was under the impression that the force design had been finalised. The financial implications of the Defence Review had not been addressed, and that the Defence Force and the Department needed to be more realistic about its numbers and what could and could not be done. Some certainty and stability needed to be provided because at the moment a lot of confusion, instability and uncertainty existed.

Mr D Gamede (ANC) said that prior to 1994/1993 there had been 400 000 reserves. He asked what had happened to all those people, given the fact that there were now only 15 000 reserves.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee for their questions. He asked that the Committee and the Defence Force team bear with him. He explained that the Committee was pressed for time and that the political parties were about to have their caucus meetings, so he requested that Major General Anderson and his team respond to the questions via e-mail to the Committee secretary.

The meeting was adjourned.

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