Status of SANDF morale; Biennial Military Skills Development System Programme; Rejuvenation of SANDF Reserves; with Deputy Minister


09 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (the Committee) convened virtually for briefings on the status of morale in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as per the Department of Defence (DOD) morale survey, and general matters affecting morale in the Defence Force. Additionally, the Committee was briefed on the impact of the biennial Military Skills Development System (MSDS) Programme intakes, and SANDF training schedules, including the rejuvenation of the SANDF Reserves, with reference to the status of the University Reserve Training Programme. A set of outstanding minutes, dating back to November 2022 were adopted.

The results of the DOD morale survey for the 2021/22 financial year, registered a neutral rating of 3.2, on scale where 3.5 or higher indicates a positive result and 2.6 or lower indicates a negative result. The Committee was concerned that the neutral score might be an indication of a negative environment within the Department. The discussion highlighted factors, pertaining to improper Human Resource practices that were affecting both deployed and based troops, which had not been considered in the questionnaire. The Committee could therefore not place reliance on the accuracy of the outcomes. The Department agreed to update the questionnaire and to extend future surveys to deployed troops for a more comprehensive and accurate result.

The dwindling numbers in both the Regular and Reserve Forces was emphasised as a major challenge with the potential to pose a significant security risk if not handled as a matter of urgency. The feeder system in the Regular Force is reported to be non-existent while the Reserve Force consisted mainly of older members who could not be deployed. The recruitment process, to replenish the declining numbers, was lagging behind the rate at which members were exiting the system. The situation is exacerbated by the limited funds allocated annually by National Treasury. The SANDF was communicating this dire position to the Committee to give voice to these challenges because engagements with other stakeholders over the past ten to twelve years had not delivered the desired outcomes. The Committee resolved to join the Department in approaching National Treasury for additional funding and to raise awareness of the looming danger among sister Departments.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister and the DOD team, the Acting Secretary of Defence (SecDef) and the SANDF team. He submitted that Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng, was attending a memorial service and might join the meeting later. He requested - in advanced - to be excused early to attend another meeting. In his absence, Mr Mmutle would take over proceedings.

Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla, submitted an apology on behalf of Minister Thandi Modise who was attending an urgent ministerial meeting, relevant to the public sector strike as orchestrated by NEHAWU.

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson stated that the discussion would deal with the status of morale within the Defence Force and by extension the Reserve Force. The Committee, as enjoined by the Constitution, shall be competent to investigate and make recommendations regarding the budget, functioning, organisation, armaments, policy, morale and state of preparedness of the National Defence Force, and to perform such other functions relating to parliamentary supervision as prescribed by the law. The Committee derives its mandate from section 228(3)(d) of the Interim Constitution. This clause was never repealed and was incorporated in the 1996 Constitution. The mandate of the Committee refers both to this clause and other clauses in the 1996 Constitution. The Committee defines morale as a confident and positive state of mind of an individual and the persistent motivation and willingness to engage in the shared purpose of the group, especially in the midst of challenging conditions such as military operations. The Committee reviewed the two matters which had been dominating the agendas of both the Joint Standing and Portfolio Committees. The Committees have met with the Department and ARMSCOR on matters related to the functioning, organisation, force design and force structure, and armaments in the Defence Force. The policy is still being discussed. The focus of this meeting is on morale because all these factors discussed with the Department and ARMSCOR, determine the morale of soldiers. The focus would be on morale in isolation of other factors that might also have an impact.

Deputy Minister’s opening remarks
Deputy Minister Makwetla remarked that the two presentations were updates on the state of affairs on matters of morale in the Defence Force and the intake conducted to replenish the human resources of the establishment. He viewed morale as a critical enabler to the achievement of the mission to have the uniformed part of the establishment in a positive and good state of mind. The morale survey was conducted across the three communities in the SANDF, i.e. Permanent Force, Reserve Force and civilian component of the Department, with the latter being employed under the Public Service Act. The presentation was outlining the factors affecting the morale of employees and indicated measures to ensure a conducive environment for the execution of the task at hand. The extent to which curtailment of the MSDS Programme was impacting on the Reserves component would be shared with the Committee.

DOD presentation
Dr Thobekile Gamede, Acting SecDef, DOD, called on Major General Mazibuko as the new Inspector-General (IG) to lead the presentation.

The Chairperson asked if there had been a change of guard in the IG’s position.

The Acting SecDef replied that the previous IG had retired.

Major General Mazibuko stated that his appointment with effect 1 February 2023 was as replacement of the previous IG who has retired. His promotion was a continuation of his duties in the army because he had been working under the previous IG of the DOD. The morale survey was conducted in terms of both a qualitative and quantitative approach. The output would be published after it had been scrutinised.

The Colonel responsible for overseeing the morale survey was tasked to present the results of the survey to the Committee. He explained that 8 732 questionnaires were distributed across the DOD population which included members from the Regular Force, Reserve Force and Public Service Act personnel. Of the 6 469 returned questionnaires, 422 were spoiled or not completed. The Morale Index for the 2021/22 financial year was thus based on the remaining 6 047 processed questionnaires.

The following scale is applied to interpret the scores:
a positive result indicates a mean score of 3.5 or higher;
a negative result indicates a mean score of 2.6 or lower; and
a neutral result indicates a mean score of between 2.7 and 3.4, i.e. between a negative and a positive result.

The DOD Morale Index registered a neutral rating of 3.2 for the 2021/22 financial year. Of the 20 factors assessed in the survey, two negative ratings and five positive ratings were registered. Neutral ratings were recorded for the remaining 13 factors. The two negative ratings related to the availability of equipment (2.4) and quality of equipment (2.6).

(See Presentation)


Mr S Marais (DA) asked what message was being conveyed through the figures and scores in the presentation. He wanted to know if it was acceptable to have a predominately neutral score or if the score should be more positive. He held the view that within a uniform environment, the conditions should be more positive. He was concerned that neutral scores might be an indication of a negative environment. The negative ratings for availability and quality of equipment were indicative of problems in the Department. He sought clarity on whether deployed soldiers were included in the population or if the survey was designed for based soldiers only. Soldiers deployed to the DRC and Mozambique have been complaining about unfavourable conditions. Deployed soldiers are required to personally fund transport costs to return home for their leave period.

The Chairperson said the understanding of the Committee was limited insofar as what the soldiers were asked to respond to because Members had not seen the questionnaire. The two negative ratings related to equipment but human resource issues, which were brought to the attention of the Committee on different site visits, appeared not be factored into the survey nor in the presentation. Members of the Defence Force who are close to retirement had been complaining about stagnation in one rank, leaving them with insufficient retirement benefits. Complaints about insufficient housing and inadequate conditions to keep pilot licenses had been raised. He asked if the neutral rating was the minimum requirement to determine the level of satisfaction or if the morale was at the required level. He was unsure what the neutral rating meant.

SANDF presentations
Brig Gen Z Niyabo, Director Reserves, SANDF, briefed the Committee on the rejuvenation of the SANDF Reserves. She reported the following overall challenges regarding the rejuvenation programme:

-lack of a feeder system, i.e. no new takes from the MSDS since 2016;

-an ageing force, i.e. the current average is 45;

-limited leader group development, i.e. stagnation, lack of rejuvenation and the need to revive the University Reserve Training programme; and

-lack of resources and manpower for non-infantry units, i.e. loss of critical mass in other corps and support units.

To ensure a younger pool of Reserves from which soldiers could be deployed, was dependent on a number of factors, including a sufficient man-day budget for recruitment purposes.

Maj Gen M Sitshongaye, Chief Director: Human Resource Development, SANDF, briefed the Committee on the impact of biennial MSDS intakes on the SANDF training schedules. He outlined the background to the training system of the Department as follows:

a serious decline in the annual DOD/SANDF budget allocation, leading to a reallocation of priorities;

the fiscal realities necessitated exploring alternative avenues to implement cost-saving initiatives;

the recruitment of MSDS intakes every alternative calendar year is one of these cost-saving initiatives; and

if continued, this decision could result in the reduction of military capabilities for executing the defence mandate.

At this point, Maj Gen M Sitshongaye was experiencing connectivity problems and was assisted by Vice Adm A Kubu, Chief of Human Resources with the remaining part of the presentation, which focused mainly on learning paths. The SANDF adopted learning paths for Officers and Warrant Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers and Defence Civilians. Learning paths are well-defined training routes through which the gradual accumulation of knowledge, skills and attributes as soldiers of all ranks are being facilitated. The learning paths are augmented by accredited training, where applicable, through postgraduate studies at the Military Academy at Stellenbosch University. A decrease in students at the Military Academy and the sustainability of academic programmes are severely being impacted by inadequate student enrolment as a result of the redirection of MSDS students to primary SANDF tasks.

The Chairperson asked the IG of the DOD to respond to the questions on the first presentation. He called for a reassessment of the HR numbers considering that natural attrition and voluntary exits from the programme. The numbers are not being replenished at the same speed that members were existing the system. The slow recruitment rate was a matter of concern that needed urgent attention. He proposed that the Committee and Department jointly approach National Treasury (NT) to raise awareness of the looming danger. The situation in the Defence Force was not just a matter of headcount, e.g. aircraft is operated in pairs and deployment is done in packs or groups of soldiers. These factors must be made clear in the joint presentation to NT. The Chairperson then excused himself from the meeting.

Mr Mmutle took over as Acting Chairperson and called on the DOD to respond to the first round of questions.

DOD’s response
Major General Mazibuko said the limited resources available to buy new equipment or preserve the old equipment were having a negative impact on the morale in the Department. To address the issues of today requires modern equipment. He explained that it was difficult to issue questionnaires in combat areas. For future surveys, he would target deployed members when they return from operational areas. He was not aware of members returning home for holidays on commercial aircraft and undertook to follow up on the matter. The deployment of members under the UN doctrine was having a negative impact on the morale of members because it differs from the SANDF doctrine of ‘we train as we fight’. Members were finding it difficult to reach the required objectives under UN deployment conditions. He advised that Project Hope would be escalated to address stagnation and retirement issues. A process is in place to engage members on issues of accommodation to ensure that refurbishments are done with their approval. On concerns about inadequate flying hours to retain pilot licences, he explained that in addition to the cost of servicing aircraft, the reduced hours due were to bureaucratic processes to bring the aircraft into the sky.

Mr Mmutle asked Mr Marais if he was satisfied with the response.
Mr Marais invited the IG to request the minutes of the oversight visit to the DRC. It would show that no logistical support is being provided by the SANDF for members to go on leave. Some members return home via Kinshasa or Rwanda and those that are unable to fund return flights, stay behind and get involved in mischief. In terms of the 2015 Defence Review, the one-third rotation cycle was found to be problematic compared to the one-quarter rotation cycle. The pilots in Cabo Delgado had to stay for six months or longer, which had a severe impact on their morale. He requested the Department to review the available information which was contradicting the survey results. The implication was that the Committee was unable to place reliance on the findings of the Department. The lower GDP meant that NT had less money to allocate to the Department, with the effect of a decrease in real terms, in the Medium Term outer cycle. He stated that money was not the solution to all of the problems in the Defence Force. Requesting more money was not a workable solution. The conclusion on the survey should take these realities into account.

Major General Mazibuko replied that forces are not deployed in one place but are scattered in different bases. It was impractical to go to the frontline to distribute papers. A practical solution would be to gather members when they return to the mobilisation centre and pose all of Mr Marais’ questions to them. He would obtain all the available information and update the survey questionnaire to assess the areas of concern highlighted by Mr Marais. The helicopter crew members are posted to civilian positions for better remuneration. He argued that some problems required the commitment of the entire leadership but addressing the logistical aspects does require money. A retention strategy and a proper rejuvenation programme also needed money. He disagreed with the comment that the engagement was based on assumptions.

Mr Mmutle remarked that the debate or questions could sometimes become heated due to the eagerness to see changes in the environment. This was the nature of the interaction with the Defence Force and was not intended to be personal.

Mr Marais agreed with the comments of the Acting Chairperson and expressed his appreciation for Defence Force members and the critical role they are playing in every operation. In reference to the 2105 Defence Review, he asked for the opinion of the Defence Force on how their members are being utilised and challenges are being dealt with. The presentation on the Reserve Force was painting a bleak picture of an ageing Force and a problematic feeder system. He acknowledged that money was important but other options must be considered given the GDP and the reduction in the Medium Term Budget. It was not wise to deploy soldiers into hostile areas without being properly resourced. He asked how long it would take before the active Reserve Force would run into zero capability. In term of the MSDS, an annual intake of 10 000 was needed to rejuvenate the Reserve Force. He asked how the rejuvenation programme would be funded. He wanted to know if the Reserve Force was offering bursaries to recruit young people into the Regular Force and the Military Academy. He asked how the training and educational needs are determined.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF) enquired if Reserve Force members are registered as Defence Force members and if they are entitled to medical benefits at the Military Hospital.

Mr Mmutle drew attention to the President’s response session in Parliament where the Minister of Police made case of skewed numbers in the SAPS versus the population. He asked if the SANDF had the opportunity to make a similar case in terms of attrition and recruitment rates versus the population in the country. He wanted to know if the ratio was adequate to carry out the constitutional mandate of the SANDF. He asked to what extent the SANDF had been making a case against NT’s enforcement of a reduction in numbers. He enquired about the mechanism in place to ensure that gaps are closed despite budget constraints and the poor economy. He found it improper to identify problems such as an ageing force and natural attrition but not do something to address the situation.

Brig Gen Niyabo replied that Operation Prosper is being used as a mechanism to address problems identified. The Department was not foreseeing getting more funds hence she was using this interaction with the Committee to request assistance with the HR budget. The Reserve Force numbers would continue to decrease and the age of remaining members would continue to increase. The Department lacked the funds to train young professional soldiers. She confirmed that the Department has a database of all Reserve Force members but they have access to medical services and benefits, only during the deployment period.

Mr Marais repeated his question about how long the Reserve Force would remain active if action is not taken soon.

Mr Mmutle asked how best the challenges of an aged Reserve Force without rejuvenation in the next five to ten years could be addressed, given the financial constraints.

Brig Gen Niyabo replied that without any changes in the next five years, the execution of the mandate of the Reserve Force would be limited to 50%. The strategy was to call up fewer senior members and call up younger members. The man-days would have to be reduced if the R5 billion deficit continues.

Mr Motsamai sought clarity on whether Reserve Force members are removed from the database when they return from deployment. He questioned why the benefits stop when soldiers are not deployed. He suggested that Reserve Force members should be permanently employed considering the insufficient number of soldiers in the Defence Force.

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said the Chairperson, at the outset, reminded the Committee of its mandate in terms of budgeting, functioning, mission readiness and the morale of the Defence Force. It appeared that the SANDF budget was not delivering the desired outcome. He asked if the Department was using the money correctly and in the best way possible. The Committee needed to be careful in its funding approach in the next few weeks of the budget cycle. He said when a division is called on the budget vote, it must be noted who voted for and against the Defence Force budget.

SANDF response
Vice Adm Kubu stated that Reserves would always have a future in the military space. Considering the One Force concept, the military could not afford that the Reserve Force become non-existent. Reserves have a critical role to play, especially the younger members that could be deployed. The knowledge and experience of more than 40 years in the system are being used effectively. The challenge was not to replace but to augment the Regular Force. On the question about recruitment bursaries, he confirmed that the Skills Development Programme is being used for training in the first two years of the introductory phase. Recruits with potential are identified and offered the opportunity to continue academic training and obtain academic qualifications through the Academy. The Career Pathing Training is structured to address future scenarios. Postgraduate qualifications are obtained through the Military Academy at Stellenbosch University. This was previously done through WITS. Retention is becoming a problem because the training presents students with marketable skills. Responding to the skewed numbers, he explained that although the MSDS programme provides for an intake of 10 000, it had never been able to reach that number. Training such a large number of people with weapons and not being able to deploy them, would pose a security risk. Although more boots on the ground were needed, the budget for training purposes was insufficient. The Reserve Force numbers have been dwindling because most members over 65 years could no longer be accommodated and the feeder system in the Regular Force was non-existent. The period of national service stipulated in the Constitution was not making it easier to call up active Reserve members.

Maj Gen T Xundu, Chief Military Policy Strategy and Planning, SANDF, said the situation of the Reserves should not be viewed independently from the SANDF. Over a considerable period of time, the situation in terms of projects and planning programmes concerning Reserves, for the 2022/23 reporting period, was signalling that the SANDF was imploding. Having to depend on Reserves over the past ten to twelve years to create ‘pizza battalions’ was becoming untenable. The problems of the Regular Force were due to insufficient funding of the SANDF. The position had been discussed for many years with those holding the purse but the voice of Military Professionals had not been loud enough to be heard. Instead, decisions are being made by financial officials while the problematic situation remains unchanged. The 2015 Defence Review recommended more boots on the ground to fulfil the SANDF mandate. The recommendation was supported by the Chief of the SANDF who made a further request for more cyber and ICT capabilities to strengthen the boots-on-the-ground initiatives. But the NT directive did not approve the recommendation. The SANDF was communicating its position, through the Committee, to give voice to these challenges. The current MSDS intake only serve to break even with natural attrition. The solution to the reduced deployment capabilities was to deploy more Reserves but the SANDF lacked the financial muscle to have an independent intake of Reserves. He appealed to the Committee to engage with the relevant stakeholders who are able to make a difference.

Deputy Minister’s closing remarks
Deputy Minister Makwetla remarked that in discussing the report on the state of the morale in the Defence Force, Members should not be shooting the messenger. The messenger must raise awareness but did not have the capability to address what was being conveyed through the message. It was the responsibility of the Generals in the Military Council and not the Inspectorate, to understand the solutions. He found the instrument used for the survey to be scientific and convincing but acknowledged that gaps should be flagged and closed for future surveys. Additional considerations should be factored into the survey and the questionnaire should be updated to deliver a more accurate result. For example, it cannot be expected from soldiers to judge the performance of their seniors because the outcome might not be objective. Members had identified improper practices when they visited troops who had been deployed outside the country. It has been reported that Reserves did not have access to medical benefits when not deployed. If these concerns were not included, then the instrument needed to be assessed for accuracy. He agreed with Mr Marais that the overall score of 3.2 was concerning. A low sense of morale was unacceptable because people whose lives are at risk must be motivated. He found the negative factors relating to the availability and quality of equipment problematic and urged that it must be addressed. He suggested a deep dive to align the HR policies with the concept of a professional Defence Force. He was disappointed that only a fraction of the 340 members who had gone through the University Programme, had been commissioned. It was concerning that efforts are made to train people but not to retain them. Further discussion on the rejuvenation of the Reserve Force would continue after the Indaba in June 2023.

Mr Mmutle said the Deputy Minister’s comments were paving the way for future engagements. He asked for engagements with sister departments to be intensified to resolve the challenges brought to the attention of the Committee. He suggested a possible intervention by the Commander-in-Chief. He was confident that the Minister of Finance would be responsive to the problematic areas which might become serious challenges if not addressed urgently due to lack of resources. A case must be made to salvage the existing capabilities despite the economic situation because these unresolved issues have an impact on the morale of soldiers.

The following minutes were adopted without any amendments:
24 November 2022;
2 December 2022;
7 December 2022;
23 February 2023; and
2 March 2023.

Mr Mmutle thanked Members for their patience in conducting the business of the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.


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