Initiatives by SANDF to enhance gender parity and youth development; with Minister


20 May 2021
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (ANC) and Mr T Mmutle (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Joint Standing Committee on Defence

The Committee convened virtually and received an overview by the Ministry of Defence, followed by a briefing on the current status of transformation initiatives in the Department and improvements over the years.

The Department of Defence (DOD) had achieved its overall population group and gender targets. All population group targets were represented, but not at all rank levels. The equity status per gender for the DOD -- uniformed and Public Service Act personnel -- showed that female representation had reached 31.38%, which was an accomplishment for a military organisation.  The first African female (in the SA Military Health Service) had been appointed as Chief: Defence Intelligence, with the rank of Lieutenant General, effective from 1 June.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) briefed the Committee on gender parity and youth development, as well as the related structures and mechanisms. This was an important consideration, given the focus placed on gender parity in various DOD policy documents, as well as broader government planning. An overview reflecting the national population groups and gender compilation was given on the improvements and transformation in the Department. Gender equality remained a challenge at the senior management level, which would be addressed through empowerment programmes, mentoring and senior management leadership commitment. The institutionalisation of transformation awareness programmes and events at all levels remained a budgetary challenge within the Department.

Members acknowledged the improvements made by the Department, but still felt the numbers were low. They wanted to know the age gaps between males and females, and the target set to meet the standard requirements for an overall gender balance. Members discussed whether the Department had a succession plan and exit strategy in place. The Committee was concerned about the large number of females not appointed to senior positions, and the fact that the training period was long. It was suggested that the sustainability of the Defence Force required a new approach to promotions, with a greater focus on the youth to ensure the future leadership of the SANDF was young, vibrant and educated.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed all present and opened the meeting by going over the agenda. He clarified that only the first item needed input from the Minister and the Department. Mr T Mmutle (ANC) would co-chair the meeting.

Minister's opening remarks

Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, said the Department was striving to be representative in gender alignment. There had been a great improvement, but it was not an easy process. The Department was ensuring that women were represented at all levels. She emphasised that women should be trained and developed, and go on all the courses that men attended.  This should start from junior levels, up to senior levels, so that when the time came for promotional rankings, there were as many women as possible. It would be a great improvement to finally identify a woman with a three-star ranking in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). This was a problem in all defence forces. The Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) was trying its best to push the policies of government on gender equality. Engagements were taking place with women on the different ranking levels, to ensure that the women who rose up in the ranks should lead and lift those at the lower levels.


SANDF on transformation

Vice Admiral Asil Kubu, Chief Human Resources, SANDF, thanked the Minister for being instrumental in driving the agenda to ensure the focus was placed on equity and gender representation. This helped them to improve on what had been difficult over the years. The Department acknowledged it was not where it was supposed to be, but there were improvements with the processes, current structures and mechanisms in place. The presentation would provide a background on the transformation and improvements over the years


Major-General Olga Nodola, Chief Director: Transformation Management, SANDF, provided an overview and background on Principle Five of the Defence Review, 2015, which states that the Department of Defence would strive to be seen as a representation, equitable and gender-aligned national asset. This implied that the Department must broadly reflect the national population groups and gender compilations.  She also mentioned the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 that urges the representation of women at all decision-making levels.

The presentation gave an overview on the revised population targets, gender groups and gender distribution.  She highlighted the youth development achievements, the planned youth section, and the challenges facing women during deployment. Gender equity was still a challenge within the Department, particularly at the senior management level and in the reserve force system. The Department of Defence (DOD) struggled to reach the 30% target for female soldiers. There were mechanisms and initiatives to promote and address gender equality, such as the gender conference, the SANDF women’s parade, men for change, and the women's and men’s forum. The endorsement of transformation, including gender mainstreaming and the implementation thereof at all levels, had resulted in the advancement of previously disadvantaged groups. Transformation in the DOD was proceeding well with the support of the military system, even though an attractive exit mechanism was still lacking.


The Chairperson thanked the Department for an outstanding presentation. The equity targets showed the female representation. The Committee acknowledged the struggle and the remarkable improvement made with the overall target of 31.38%, and the accomplishment of a female Lieutenant General. He said the Minister had done exceptionally well and made the Committee proud.

Ms M Modise (ANC) commended the DOD for the efforts made to achieve gender balance. There had been improvements, but the numbers were still low. Could the Committee have clarity on the age gaps between males and females in the senior ranks? The DOD had not mastered the succession plan, and this needed to be institutionalised to deal with the backlog of senior positions. The list consisted of males who were waiting in line for positions to become the next General or Chief. The longer it took for the succession plan to be implemented, the longer females would wait for appointments to senior positions. Were the training courses and programmes for the youth equivalent to formal qualifications to compete in the private sector? In order for females to occupy senior or commanding officer positions, they should not have to wait long for training. The training period should be expedited.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) thanked the Minister on a job well done, and posed a question on the military veterans, speaking in Xhosa.

Ms A Beukes (ANC) congratulated the Department on the appointment of the first female officer as a Lieutenant General, and wanted to know if there were other sections in the SANDF where females were under-represented, and how this was being addressed. Had the Department done a comparison on female representation in the military establishments in other countries and if so, what was the status? The programmes sounded impressive, but what impact had been made?

Dr B Holomisa (UDM) said it was important to look at the future of the SANDF. Since the year 1994, investments had been made in the SANDF. There were many students who were trained through the military who had academic qualifications. One should look at the Defence Force Service Commission, the human resources (HR) of the SANDF and its leadership, and ask where one saw the Force in five to 15 years? This was important, because most of them would not be in the office and would be gone, together with their expertise and experience. One had to look at intensifying the training of the junior officials. Some should also be linked to other countries for a period of three to six months, with the same training programmes.

There was a need to ensure the infrastructure of the SANDF was improved. There were generals and brigadiers who were unable to operate computers and work with technology. Looking at the future, if a candidate wanted to be an officer, they should surely be information technology (IT) competent. In these days, an officer had to be capable in technology, intelligence appreciation and military appreciation.  This Committee must be briefed on the syllabus in place for officers. Did the current syllabus cater for all the necessary programmes?

On the issue of gender parity, this was an opportunity for the Committee to say it wants the junior graduates to be sent to school to be trained, and immediately address the issues of gender balance. 

Mr Mmutle sought clarity on the gender parity issues and the target set for meeting the standard requirement on the overall gender balance. Females and the younger generation made up the majority, so what were the prospects of having a chief who was less than 35 years old in the command structure? He added that the military veteran question posed by Mr Motsamai should be asked when the Military Veterans Department was present in order to respond to it.

Mr S Marais (DA) supported the suggestion of employing younger persons in positions, who could perform the job. A young and vibrant defence force was needed.  The government had an outdated objective for the appointment of people with disabilities. The defence force had various tasks and sections that could easily be performed by a person with a disability. Nothing had been mentioned and reported on persons with disabilities.

He had written letters to the Chairperson on the fact that there were still critical issues that needed to be addressed in the annual performance plan. These were based on the capacity problems and internal problems caused by Denel.

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) support the critical issues mentioned by Mr Marais, and the question of the sustainability of the DOD in relation to the annual performance plan.

Department's response

Vice Admiral Kubu replied on the issues of rank, and confirmed that the age was 18 to 26 for both males and females, and there were no discrepancies. There were no age gaps and disparities between males and females, and both genders were treated the same. There were no gaps with the new recruits and with the integration. More males came into the Department at a certain age. Most non-statutory force (NSF) members who had been integrated into the Department did not have sufficient pension, and this was where the issue of extension had come in, and people had not retired at a certain time. Succession planning had not been done in time, and there was no balancing act in terms of retirement. Currently succession planning and exit mechanisms were in place and on track, and the recent appointments confirmed that and allowed appointments up to the age of 65. The Minister had approved the exit strategy, and from April members could exit the Department at the age of 65.

The military academy ensured that the youth were trained through the Faculty of Military Science at the University of Stellenbosch. The qualifications were accredited and issued by the University of Stellenbosch. There were members who went through the military academy who were currently occupying positions in the public and private sectors.

Females were considered for the joint senior command training programme. At the time, the females had not yet completed their functional training, which was a requirement for their specific appointed posts. This created a gap, as the structure required that officials complete their functional training before completing the senior command programmes. When officials come into the system, they must fully comply with the job performance requirements, and thereafter do the joint senior command training programme in order to qualify for promotion. It was structural -- all training must be completed to ensure there was no gaps.

Studies had been conducted to do comparisons with other countries, and he was proud to say that South Africa took the issue of gender seriously. Other countries were asking how SA got it right, as it was taking the lead with the appointment of females, and this information was readily available.

In terms of timelines, it was difficult to say when gender parity would be reached. The Department was still working on a 30/70 gender split. It was currently at 28% instead of 30%. The targets would be revised accordingly to ensure a 50/50 split, taking into consideration female demographic representation.

Vice Admiral Kubu said he supported the comments and questions of Dr Holomisa -- the Department needed to take stock of its training programmes and benchmark with other countries. He could confirm that benchmarking was already taking place. Learners at the junior rank level were in training in Russia and Cuba. They were learning a lot as they went along, especially in Russia. The basic training and functional courses fully qualified the learner, and that helped them to start thinking how to position the SANDF. Interactions were taking place with the Service Commission to align the issues of training, research and service benefits of the members.

He was not in a position to say if it was possible or not to appoint a chief who was less than 35 years old in the command structure. This depended on the intensity of the training programmes. Functional training started at 18 years old, and there was a promotion policy which disclosed the minimum years and training. It took an average of at least a minimum of 14 years to qualify, which meant a person would already be in their 30s. All the required courses and training must be completed within that time to be able to be competent by the age of 35. It would be difficult, but it was possible.

The Department was in a difficult situation regarding employing people with disability. There were various categories regarding disabilities, but it would be difficult to even go through the basic training. They could compromise with the other different functional courses, and there were strategies to address the situation with people with disabilities.

Maj Gen Nodola said the Defence Force ensured that members appointed at training facilities had the necessary equipment. The Department did the necessary checks through the monitoring and evaluation unit per programme.

Responding on the comparison with the female representation in other countries, she said that it was being done, but she did not have the results or correct information on hand.

Committee business

Mr Peter Daniels, Committee Content Advisor, responded on the issues related to letters from Dr Holomisa and the follow up matters arising from the previous minutes. They were still awaiting the responses, and as soon as they were received, a programme would be set for discussion.

Dr Willem Janse van Rensburg, Committee Researcher, went over the main plans of the annual performance plan (APP). Referring to the adoption of the APP, he said the Committee must decide on the issue of Denel, as mentioned by Mr Marais and Mr Ryder.  An adjustment could be made to the schedule of the current term.

Co-Chairperson Mmutle indicated that he was not happy with the response on the appointment of younger officers in the command structure. It would have been beneficial if the Minister had been present during the discussion on the appointment of younger members. She would have been able to assist and advise accordingly. It said a lot about the succession of the SANDF that people had to wait until the age of 50. Development of individuals differed from one person to another. The system should be accommodating, and there should not be only a standardised process in terms of development, as some individuals progress faster. It was important for the Department to review current processes and systems in term of appointments and gender parity.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson said the Committee would wait for the responses on the letters from Gen Holomisa.

The APP was adopted, with the necessary amendments.

The minutes of the Committee meetings of 11 and 18 March, and 6 and 13 May 2021, were adopted. The follow up matters arising from the previous minutes would be discussed next week, and a document would be circulated

The meeting was adjourned.


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