Equal Opportunities in the SANDF: briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

16 October 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


16 OCTOBER 2001

: Ms T Modise

Documents handed out:
Equal opportunities and Affirmative Action presentation

The Directorate of Equal Opportunities in the Department of Defence briefed the Committee on a range of issues including affirmative action, prevention of sexual harassment, gender awareness, training and development. One of their main challenges is around the involvement of women in combat roles. The Committee commended the work done by this Directorate but noted that there are still major challenges ahead such as racism, the promotion of non-statutory force members and the resistance of senior officers to change. Both agreed on the need to orientate the top management in the Department to become receptive to policy changes.

Major-General PRF Sedibe
General PRF Sedibe, Chief Director: Equal Opportunities Directorate set out the Directorate’s major goals, which is to attract a number of people into the Department of Defence (DoD), especially women. By applying the equal opportunity policy efficiently the DoD wants to encourage members to develop their full potential in the Defence Force. The policy takes into account, amongst other things, gender policies, prevention of sexual harassment, gender awareness, training and development. The DoD is currently implementing affirmative action especially with regard to the involvement of women in combat roles. She added that fast tracking of these policies have already been promulgated.

Brigadier-General MD Myamya
Brigadier-General MD Myamya, Director: EO Policy and Plans, added that the programme on equal opportunities has expanded throughout the Defence Force. Gender issues and the empowerment of women are of paramount importance in the DoD. The gender management system and the gender forum have already been introduced in the Air Force and the Department. They are still having a problem in the army because it is a male dominated service. There is also introduction of a section on disability which was established in January 2001. He said it is important for a military organisation to service and look after its disabled members. The type of weaponry used could cause soldiers hearing or physical disabilities.

Colonel Van Schalkwyk
Colonel Van Schalkwyk concentrated mainly on the implementation plan of affirmative action in the DoD. He said affirmative action is a programme aimed at redressing the racial and gender imbalances in the Department. The objective is to have a work force (including leadership positions) that is representative of the population composition of South Africa at all levels.

Ms A Van Rensburg
Ms Anita Van Rensburg is a Deputy Director: Development, Evaluation and Research in the department. The function of this section is to facilitate development programs to sensitise members and employees to issues of diversity and equal opportunity issues. The main focus of research is on training and development. As part of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme, 66 EO Advisers were trained since 1996 at the Defence Equal Opportunities Management Institute (DEOMI) in America. Currently there are four South African students in the USA busy with training at DEOMI. These EO advisers will be staffed at bases throughout the country to assist commanders in the execution of the EO policy.

Mr J Mashimbye (ANC) said they have a progressive policy on women in combat, but he wondered whether is it put in practice because such issues are not taken up by the command structures. He said for instance women are not involved in the submarines and other units.

Ms Van Rensburg replied that the Chief of the SA Navy has said that they will accommodate women in submarines. But this would be possible only in five years time when new submarines are in use because there are no facilities for women in the current submarines. She agreed that although the policies are in place, the attitudes and perceptions are not receptive to some of these policies. Even women are not really ready for gender integration at this stage.

General Sedibe added that during the start of integration they visited all the services including the navy. She discovered that there is no privacy in the submarines, people have to change uniforms in open spaces because there is not enough space. She reiterated what Ms Van Rensburg said, that it is easy to legislate policy, but they cannot legislate attitudes and perceptions.

Mr Mashimbye said he made an example of a submarine but he was not really referring to the navy only. Why are women are not involved in combat and which areas in the defence force are most problematic in terms of allowing women in combat roles.

Gen Sedibe replied that they have women in combat in the infantry and they are also commanding officers, although there are only a few women the IN artillery and airforce.

Mr Smit (NNP) said he has seen women in combat uniforms but were they really involved in practical combat situations. What is the position of the army given these equal opportunities and affirmative action in as far as combat is concerned?

Gen Sedibe said there is a certain Lieutenant Colonel Mfaxa who is an officer commanding in the 18 South African Infantry Battalion in Umtata. This woman has been deployed with a unit as a commander along the Maluti Mountains for some time. She has been involved in combat and as a result she became a commander through merit. Gen Sedibe added that one good thing they have done in the Defence Force is to integrate women and men in training so that no one should be regarded as more qualified than the other.

On the issue of racism, Mr Smit wondered whether it was not attributable to the failure of the DoD to address these issues as quickly as it should.

Gen Sedibe replied that they are trying to encourage people to communicate at different levels. There is a cultural development programme which tries to expose members of the Defence Force to the different cultures so that they can know each other’s way of doing things. She made an example that in some cultures a subordinate does not look at his or her superior in the eyes as a sign of respect, but in other cultures this is seen as a lack or respect.

The Chairperson wanted to know whether it is because of the intransigence of the Department that people are not promoted.

Gen Myamya said he believed the issue of promotion forms part of the grievances currently handled and the Department has done some further restructuring in a way to improve the handling of grievances in the Defence Force. There is a structure that has been established to handle grievances including those related to promotions. The bone of contention is that this process is still going on and a lot of co-ordination is still needed.

Colonel Van Schalkwyk said there are certain challenges in the DoD concerning promotions. A human resource strategy 2010 that has been approved. He said the major question is that of age and rank, whether should they rank people on the basis of their age or on the basis of their performance. If they promote people on the basis of age younger soldiers who are supposed to be the future leaders of the defence force would be left behind because some of the older soldiers are not deployable. The other question is who is going to fight and who is going to command? Is it the younger or the old soldiers? This is the problem they are facing at the moment.

Mr L Ngculu (ANC) said it would be important for the Committee to get the 2010 human resource strategy that the Colonel has referred to because it is the first time they hear about it. He asked the delegation whether they had any interaction with the Setai Commission because some of the points they were raising have been raised already in the Setai Commission report. When looking at the EO report there are processes that are already taking place and he would like to see how the Setai Commission and the Directorate could be linked.

Gen Sedibe replied that they were approached by the Setai Commission and they also made a presentation to them. The Department responded well to the questions posed by the Commission.

Mr Ngculu said the delegation has reported that there is a gender forum in the DoD and the South African Airforce (SAAF), but they indicated that there are certain limitations in the army. Are there any processes to address those limitations?

Gen Sedibe responded that they have a gender forum that consists of senior women members from the airforce and the Department. It has been highlighted that the army is still male dominated that is why there is reluctance to initiate gender forums. The gender forum is there to advise and assist on issues of gender in the different services of the Defence Force. They are encouraging other services to form gender forums as well otherwise the purpose of the programme will be meaningless if other services do not have their forums.

Prof M Mabeta (UDM) asked the Directorate to comment on the structure of EO within the Department and especially on the role of the Defence Secretary. What is his authority and influence in the directorate? This is important because structure drives policy.

Gen Sedibe replied that they are reporting to the Defence Secretary who is an accounting officer for the Department of Defence.

Prof Mabeta said he is concerned with the extent to which the Department is relying on DEOMI, while understanding that South Africa cannot operate in isolation. But the fact is that each time South Africans visit other countries, they feel that there is a South African paradigm which is rich with lessons that can be effectively institutionalised. It is important that South Africans should be able to man these institutions so that they acquire experience that could be utilised for the benefit of the country.

Gen Sedibe said in 1995 when integration was at its height they were invited by the Americans and were told to utilise their institutions, particularly the issues that deals with diversity, equal opportunities, affirmative action and employment equity. She said there are many students that they have sent there. The most important thing is that they are not only taught how to deal with problems, but they are also taught how to look after themselves so that they should not be the cause of problems.

She added that whilst South Africans are learning a lot from the Americans, the South Africans are also teaching the Americans a great deal in the discussions that they normally have. For instance on the issue of gender and sexual orientation the Americans admitted that South Africa is leading in this area. She said the Americans also asked them to attach some of their members to DEOMI to be instructors there, however, this has not yet been formalised. Lastly the Americans are the only country that have an institute of this nature in the world and the DoD is getting this training almost free of charge, that is why they are utilising this programme.

Prof Mabeta said the presentations sounded good but as far as he knew there were many problems in the DoD. The presenters should therefore not create an impression that everything is rosy out there. The Committee would like to be told what are the problems.

Gen Sedibe said she did not deny that there are problems in their structures, but there are also programs like the gender section that has managed to develop into a formidable structure. She said they preferred not to talk about problems because they thought problems are part of the challenges of the work they are doing presently. She added that this is not an easy chief directorate given the problems already mentioned such as gender, disability, and racial harmony. There is resistance to these programs but they always have to look for a way forward, not to come and report problems to the Committee.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) asked how many cases of sexual harassment the Defence Force have per annum, could Gen Sedibe give estimation? Is sexual harassment increasing or decreasing.

Gen Sedibe said she does not have the actual statistics but people who are found guilty of sexual harassment, especially officers, are charged or demoted.

Secondly Mr Ndlovu said that in the research presentation it is said that racism exists in the DoD. Has this been addressed by the senior management of the Department to avoid the recurrence of incidents like the killings in Tempe and Phalaborwa?

Ms Van Rensburg replied that all the issues relating to discrimination and racism have been presented to the Defence Staff Council. There are two ways in which they deal with problems of this nature, first they use focus group research and apply a quantitative analysis of the problematic areas, and secondly they conduct awareness training to the units that have been identified as having problems.

Mr Ndlovu asked what would happen if people in the DoD said no to gays and lesbians?

Gen Sedibe replied that this is a constitutional issue, it is not a matter of one wants this or one does not want that. The issue here is how do they handle such delicate issues which are part of the Constitution. If people say no to gays and lesbians it means they do not understand the constitution of the country as well as policies of the DoD. She added that there is a need for intensive training and roadshows for the people to begin to understand these issues.

Ms Z Kota (ANC) asked how senior managers in the DoD respond to issues like equal opportunities and affirmative action. Did the research done find any change of mind in the senior management to ensure that EO and AA programs are implemented effectively?

Ms Van Rensburg replied that equal opportunities have now for the first time been recognised as one of the important strategic objectives of the Department. The chief of each service will be evaluated and assessed on their performance in terms of equal opportunities. This should filter down to all the commanding officers and will be part of their performance agreement as well.

Mr Mashimbye said that the research that has been conducted suggests that the issue of gays and lesbians in the Defence Force impacts negatively on the morale of the armed forces. Even allowing women in combat impacts negatively on the morale of soldiers. Was this the understanding that could be drawn in the research. Because he said as legislatures they should make it a point that when they make legislation on these matters it does not impact negatively on the morale of the soldiers.

Gen Sedibe replied that the research was done in order to see whether there was any need of making a policy because there was no policy that addressed issues of sexual orientation. The research was prompted by reports in the newspapers that said gays and lesbians were discriminated against in the department of defence. In fact there is no legislation that discriminate people on the basis that they are gays or lesbians. The point here was for the Department to make members aware that discriminating against an individual on the basis of his or her sexual orientation was an offence in this country. So she doubted whether this could have impacted negatively on the moral of soldiers.

On the issue of women in combat the Chairperson said that the history of this country has seen the involvement of women in combat roles, going back to the Anglo-Boer war, and also looking at the struggle against apartheid, women were there. The perception that women are weak and that they cannot carry a gun is nothing else but sexism. She urged the Committee that this debate should not take them backwards, women in the Defence Force have chosen to take part in combat and most of women like her are happy to have made that choice.

Gen Sedibe added that in the DoD they all have their baggage, be it gender, sexual orientation or racism, but what is important is that the Defence Force should consist of professional soldiers. These professional soldiers should tolerate and accept the fact that someone might be in combat with a woman, a gay or lesbian, and that should not be a problem. However, professionalism should always be maintained in the Defence Force.

Gen Myamya said the Constitution, which is a supreme law of the country and a benchmark document even to the world, has provided answers to all these issues on the rights of women, gays and lesbians. The research that is sometimes conducted helps in the formulation of policy.

The Chairperson concluded that the issues presented before the Committee will be given serious consideration in all the policy-making processes of the Department.

The meeting was adjourned


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