The Joint Standing Committee on Defence convened in a virtual meeting to receive a briefing by the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) and external experts on succession planning in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). The DFSC told the Committee that between 2018 and 2021, the SANDF had experienced an increased number of senior members/managers occupying critical positions beyond their compulsory retirement age of 60, as 97 general staff members were between the ages of 55 and 60. These statistics implied that the SANDF was set to lose 107 senior members (general staff) by 2027 due to normal attrition. The exit of these members, if it was not managed properly, may result in the drain of experience and knowledge from the Department, which would affect the operational capabilities of the SANDF.
The external experts told the Committee that during the integration phase of the SANDF (1994-2014), the key priorities for succession planning were focused on political considerations, reskilling, and building mutual trust. In the consolidation phase (2015-2025), the focus was on transformation and diversity, skills-focused professionalisation, and operations. In the future-soldier phase (2025 and beyond), the key priorities for succession planning would be focused on operational experience, performance-based skills, skills and qualifications.
The Committee also heard that the success of succession planning required other foundational human resource components to be in place and functioning before it could be implemented. These components included talent management, career management, training and development, and performance management. Succession planning included all the steps taken to identify which roles were important in a company and which potential candidates could become successors for those roles. It also involved ensuring one's successors were prepared for the handover and making sure they had the required training, skills and experience to fill the role.
The Committee felt that both presentations focused on the regular Defence Force instead of also including the Reserve Force, and asked how succession planning could work in the Reserve Force. A member said that with 107 generals retiring within the next five years, one would have thought that there was no shortage of suitable applicants for those positions, and wanted to understand why the SANDF would have challenges in finding suitable successors for those positions.
The external experts told the Committee that there were enough personnel to replace the outgoing generals, as there were suitable people between the ages 50-54 and 45-49. There were also over 200 colonels aged between 40 and 49, and about 300 aged between 50 and 53. The only challenge would be choosing the right people for the right positions.
The One Force Design principle entailed the full-time component and the reserve component. The components were brought together at different proportions during operations, and the Reserve Force could not claim the same rights as the Regular Force unless they were both in service. Reservists could not impose themselves on the SANDF if their services were not required. The One Force Design principle stated that the Regular Force and Reserve Force operated as a unit in operations, and were entitled to the same training, uniform, equipment, etc.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the Members of the Joint Standing Committee and the delegation from the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) and external experts to the meeting. He said that the Committee had previously received a presentation from the DFSC, where the issue of career management within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was raised as a challenge. He said that the Committee had invited the DFSC to present their observations in the meeting, as the Committee had received complaints during its visit to Cape Town from SANDF members who remained in the same ranks and had no improvements in their lives. The SANDF members were worried because they were close to retirement age and did not see many prospects for themselves beyond retirement.
A recommendation had been made by the DFSC that the rank and salaries of SANDF members should be delinked, and this was prompted by the upward mobility that was becoming an issue of concern among the ranks of the soldiers. He was happy that the DFSC had accepted the invitation by the Committee to discuss the succession planning issue.
Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) on career management and succession planning
Mr Ian Robertson, Chairperson, DFSC, introduced his delegation and allowed Mr Thando Magubane, Researcher, DFSC, to proceed with the presentation.
Mr Magubane presented the DFSC’s recommendations on career management and succession planning at the SANDF. On the recommendations on SANDF career management, he said the DFSC had presented the following recommendations to the Minister:
- Review of career management system in the SANDF.
- Senior vacant posts to be staffed by permanent SANDF members to ensure command and control continuity and proper strategic planning.
- Department of Defence (DOD) to ensure the fair and transparent implementation of policies guiding career development, nomination and selection and developmental courses.
- The selection and nomination criteria for members to attend joint senior command and staff programmes be revised so that successful learners could add value to the SANDF.
- Placement, staffing and promotions according to qualifications and not vacancies – the right person with the right qualifications, training and experience in the appropriate post.
On the DFSC’s recommendations on succession planning, he said that the process of succession planning was not meant to be a pre-selection exercise of who would take up a particular leadership or critical position. It was intended to prepare and create a pool of suitably qualified and capable members to take up leadership and critical positions when they became vacant. Between 2018 and 2021, the SANDF had experienced an increased number of senior members/managers occupying critical positions beyond their compulsory retirement age of 60, as 97 general staff members were between the ages of 55 and 60. These statistics implied that the SANDF was set to lose 107 senior members (general staff) by the year 2027 due to normal attrition. The exit of these members, if it was not managed properly, may result in the drain of experience and knowledge from the Department, which would affect the operational capabilities of the SANDF.
Succession planning could not be performed in a vacuum. The success of succession planning required other foundational human resource components to be in place and functioning before it could be implemented. These components included talent management, career management, training and development, and performance management. The benefits that the SANDF could derive from implementing succession planning included the following:
- Ensuring leadership and organisational continuity;
- Helping identify skills gaps;
- Retaining institutional knowledge;
- Boosting morale and retention; and
- Replacing highly specialised competencies.
Presentation by external experts
Prof Sam Tshehla, Dean: Faculty of Military Science, University of Stellenbosch, said that succession planning included all of the steps taken to identify which roles were important in a company and which potential candidates could become successors for those roles. It also involved ensuring one's successors were prepared for the handover and making sure they had the required training, skills and experience to fill the role. Organisations aspired to acquire, develop, retain and ultimately promote top talent, and transitions between leadership were based on careful succession planning through getting the right people into the right positions.
Leading organisations crafted short and long term incentives that rewarded leaders for creating environments that developed successors. These included creative combinations of three learning elements:
Experiential learning: Giving the successors an opportunity to learn through intended day to day work space experience.
Job exposure: Establishing the opportunities to learn from others both inside and outside the organisation in its broader ecosystem across industries and functions.
Education: Developing successors' expertise through formal instruction focused on building capabilities.
The typical process of succession planning involved seven steps:
1. Getting top management involved and committed to the succession planning process at various levels. It should not be about the top management positions only.
2. Analysis of mandate and available capacity (skills audit).
3. A robust performance management system to be in place (performance appraisals).
4. Analysis of future work and associated skills that would be required.
5. Assessing potential staff members for identified positions,
6. Roll out of a development plan.
7. Evaluating programme results against the objectives developed at the initial stage.
Dr Moses Khanyile, Director: Centre for Military Studies (CEMIS), University of Stellenbosch, presented the evolution of succession perspectives in the SANDF. He said that during the integration phase of the SANDF (1994-2014), the key priorities for succession planning had been focused on political considerations, reskilling, and the building of mutual trust. In the consolidation phase (2015-2025), the focus was on transformation and diversity, skills-focused professionalisation, and operations. In the future-soldier phase (2025 and beyond), the key priorities for succession planning would be focused on operational experience, performance-based skills, as well as skills and qualifications. The key drivers of succession planning within the military were currently age restrictions, health status, operational fitness, the relevant training skills and competencies acquired, as well as the promotion cycle for all ranks.
Mr S Marais (DA) felt that both presentations focused on the regular Defence Force instead of also including the Reserve Force, and asked how succession planning could work in the Reserve Force. He also wanted to know if the 60 year retirement age also applied to the Reserve Force. He asked where the line was drawn in terms of age, because there were people who could not do anything at the age of 55, and there were some who were energetic and fit to do their jobs at the same age and older.
Regarding succession planning, he said some people’s career paths were decided for them and some individuals planned their own career paths and the trajectory which they wanted to follow in their future. He asked how this could be dealt with in the SANDF. The cost of employees in the Defence Force remained high, and he wanted to know the extent to which this was considered in the thinking about the future of the Defence Force. He also wanted to know whether the type of warfare the Defence Force may be exposed to in the future had been taken into consideration -- whether it was high-tech warfare, normal warfare or unforeseen warfare. He asked the DFSC if it had discussed succession planning with the Reserve Force Council, and if they had made recommendations.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said that with 107 generals retiring within the next five years, one would have thought that there was no shortage of suitable applicants for those positions. He wanted to understand why the SANDF would have challenges in finding suitable successors for those positions. He asked if it was not a good time to reconsider the structure of the Defence Force if there were 107 generals who would be retiring in the next few years. Lastly, he wanted to know if there was any fluidity between the regular Defence Force and the Reserve Force in terms of promotional prospects for all senior positions.
Mr M Shelembe (DA) wanted to know the impact that the shortage of funds to upskill members of the Reserve Force would have on succession planning. He also wanted to know if the delays in filling vacant posts would also affect succession planning in the Defence Force, and what could be done to speed up to process of filling vacant posts. He asked about the short-term and long-term incentives of succession planning, and whether there were any criteria that could be used to select best performing individuals for senior positions in the Defence Force. Lastly, he wanted to know if there were any learnerships or internships that could help with the development of individuals within the Defence Force to also ensure that they did not leave.
Mr Robertson said the statement that succession planning was a process of ‘getting the right people into the bus, taking the wrong people off the bus, and positioning the right people in the right seats’ was important, because sometimes people were in the wrong positions within the military. He said there needed to be an engagement with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) to make the performance management system appropriate for Defence Force personnel. He said that when people applied to do the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) for two years, they were looking for work and were not necessarily committed to being a soldier for the next 40 years, especially considering the unemployment rate in South Africa.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) wanted to know what could be done to ensure that the courses taken by soldiers to reach the level of 3-Star and 4-Star General were taken at a younger age than they were currently taken.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) said that many non-statutory force members were unemployed, and wanted to know the criteria used to select reservists, because most reservists were not in the database and would not be able to be admitted at 1 Military Hospital if they got injured.
The Chairperson said that training was both formal and informal, as formal training was received from accredited institutions and informal training was received in an informal way and did not render a certificate of qualification. He thanked the external experts and the DFSC for providing an informal training session on succession planning to the Committee.
He said that in the past, there was conscription, and in the symposium that was held, it had been mentioned that conscription had brought skills and experience that the Defence Force did not have at the time. When this was abandoned, the Defence Force was left with unskilled and inexperienced personnel, to the extent that it had to outsource skills and expertise from external institutions, which was costly. People in the country also see the Defence Force as a respectable career choice for themselves, and they jumped at opportunities to join the force when advertised. The Chairperson was concerned that by 2027, the SANDF would have lost about 107 generals through natural attrition, because the feeder system of the Defence Force was weak.
Prof Tshehla said that the Defence Review document stated the process that must be followed clearly in resolving the Reserve Force challenges. Some members of the Military Skills Development Project that was run by the DoD were absorbed from the Defence Force, and some left after two years. The skills that those people learnt could also cause different challenges if they ended up unemployed and destitute in the streets, for example, using firearms. The way that other countries solved stagnation issues among the military ranks was similar to South Africa. For example in Germany, people could serve for up to 25 years. South Africa did not have a way to leverage military expertise after members of the Force were phased out, whereas in other countries, they were able to join security companies and other related professions in the defence sector.
At the University of Stellenbosch, they were working on a document called Strategy 2040, which was a projection of where the university was going to be in the next 40 years, looking at the future students that the university was expecting to get and the future lecturers that it would need to have. This was the same approach that could be followed by the Defence Force by looking at the kind of wars that could be fought in the future and the kind of soldier that would be needed. The challenge that the SA Defence Force had was the long term careers, which impacted the lower ranks in moving upwards in their careers, and also on the number of posts available for new soldiers.
He said that for performance management systems to be done correctly, the Defence Force must be in a position to quantify its targets, because failure to do so resulted in a tick box situation. He said that with the challenge of people joining the army just because they were unemployed, other countries educated such people and then trained them and then later screened them to see if they actually wanted to be soldiers or not. Those that did not become soldiers gained skills that would allow them to thrive in a different career so that they did not fall between the cracks and did not waste years of their lives.
Dr Khanyile said that the One Force Design principle entailed the full-time component and the reserve component. The components were brought together at different proportions during operations, and the Reserve Force could not claim the same rights as the Regular Force unless they were both in service. Reservists could not impose themselves on the SANDF if their services were not required. The One Force Design principle states that the Regular Force and Reserve Force operate as a unit in operations, and were entitled to the same training, uniform, equipment, etc.
He said that there were enough personnel to replace the outgoing generals, as there were people between the ages 50-54 and 45-49. There were also over 200 colonels aged between 40 and 49 and about 300 aged between 50 and 53. The only challenge would be choosing the right people for the right positions. Regarding the shortage of funds for Reserve Forces, he said that looking at the reduction of the mandates for the Reserve Force and the MSDS being done every two years, the Department had to make unpopular decisions in an attempt to balance the budget for the cost of employees. They had to make drastic changes in the operating model, and reprioritisation had to happen, and part of that impacted on the Reserve Force and on the MSDS. This was not an ideal situation because there was a need for more Reserve mandates and more frequent MSDS graduates in order to have an efficient feeder system.
He would not advise corners to be cut in the promotion of soldiers into the higher rankings, because these people dealt with people’s lives. The soldiers needed to do and complete many courses before they could be moved up to certain ranks, and this took many years to do. They underwent these courses for purposes of ensuring that missions could be accomplished and that lives could be saved. If the country had a smooth-running feeder system that was done frequently and in larger quantities, then it would stand a better chance of having sufficient material for promotion.
He said that conscription was not politically acceptable as a principle, which was why there was a volunteer system in the country. The professionalisation of the Defence Force required that people participate on a voluntary basis, and was in line with the Constitution of South Africa. The Defence Force was always oversubscribed, and one would never have to force anyone to join. The Youth Service that was mooted in the Defence Review did not have any traction as it was envisaged, but the Minister had the power to create any services that may be required. The issue was with the amount of funding that was allocated to the Chief of the Defence Force to get people to join the Force.
Mr Magubane said that the challenges were similar between the permanent and the Reserve Force components, but in this instance, their focus was on the permanent component because they had the majority of the concerns. There was a need for a specific investigation into the Reserve Force members because as much as the challenges were similar, the Reserve Force challenges were unique, especially with the mandate challenge.
Mr Robertson said that some of the issues they encountered when they visited the military bases included human resource issues, career paths, disciplinary matters, base security, accommodation, duty busses, etc.
The Chairperson thanked all the presenters on behalf of the Committee and said that when one had so much information, it was hard to say what one would do next without taking time to go through the notes. The Committee would follow through, and if there were some issues that needed to be ironed out, it would not hesitate to invite the DFSC and the external experts to clarify. He said that the Committee was concerned about succession planning because it was not only about the present but also the future of the Defence Force.
He thanked the panel for the presentations, and allowed them to exit the meeting.
The Committee discussed logistical issues about its pending visit to Bloemfontein.
The meeting was adjourned.
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