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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
31 October 2001
SANDF POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ON HIV/AIDS: BRIEFING; SETAI COMMISSION: DELIBERATIONS; DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO BURUNDI: BRIEFING BY MINISTER
Chairperson: Mr Ntsiki Mashimbye
Documents handed out:
SANDF presentation on HIV/AIDS Policies and Procedures (document available 9 November)
The Committee was briefed on the HIV/AIDS policies and procedures of the SANDF. It is being managed as a chronic issue, and attention is being paid to reducing stigmatisation.
There was further discussion on the Setai Commission. Members viewed the Commission as important, as it expresses a view on the defence structure of the country.
Minister Lekota was criticised for deploying troops in Burundi without consulting Parliament first. Members were notified of the deployment through the media. They thought this indicated a lack of transparency and accountability.
Briefing by SANDF
Ms Madlala-Routledge: Deputy Minister, Defence, said that the Department of Defence takes the issue of HIV/AIDS very seriously. They require troops who are fit and ready to be deployed. They also need to care for the troops who do become infected.
Lt Gen Dr Janse Van Rensburg: Surgeon General briefed the Committee on HIV Management in the Defence Force.
Overview: of HIV/AIDS policy started in 1988, leading to a comprehensive DoD instruction in May 2001. Monitoring is conducted by a multi-professional team, and co-ordinators. There is top-level commitment on this matter especially from the Deputy Minister, who is the DoD patron. Health is a strategic issue for the DoD. HIV/AIDS is managed as a chronic issue, with cognisance given to reducing stigmatisation.
Impact: Young members of the SANDF are profiled to take risks, including being sexually active, highly mobile, subject to peer pressure and having a sense of invulnerability. Soldiers are targeted by sex workers, and they have a disrupted home status.
Death Statistics: Analysis of the 1999 statistics indicates that the number of soldiers dying in service from AIDS is approximately equal to that of the civilian population.
Medical categories: At the time of Operation Blue Crane, 73% of troops were medically fit. Per March 2001, 86% of troops were fit for deployment. The medical examination includes pre-counselling of diseases, including HIV. Social assessments, psychological evaluations, oral health and fitness and immunisation assessments are also undertaken.
Impact of the Disease: Human resource components are critical to sustain external deployments and the force design. HIV/AIDS will lead to extra expenses, and will compromise our security. By 2010 we intend to employ healthy members.
HIV/AIDS policy: DoD instructions are followed on education and prevention, prevention of discrimination and victimisation of those affected, care and support, monitoring and surveillance, and we co-ordinate with the Department of Health to follow best practices.
Condoms, information, education, evaluation. Confidentiality: HIV testing of troops is on a voluntary basis according to signature and authority of the individual concerned. Counselling/spiritual services.
HIV positive patients cannot be immunised against other diseases such as Yellow Fever because the vaccines can accentuate and speed up the onset of AIDS. There are people living with AIDS on the staff of the Surgeon General's office to monitor the epidemic, and they perform valuable duties in helping de-stigmatisation. The SANDF received donor funds from the USA to monitor HIV/AIDS. South Africa has the most advanced programme amongst the military anywhere in the world.
Project Masibambisane: 96% of soldiers are aware of HIV/AIDS education programmes.
The Chairperson, Mr Mashimbye, stated that the Committee intended JSCD to spend time in the SANDF early next year to see and confirm the reports received. What percentage of the SANDF is affected by HIV/AIDS, and is that situation different from the rest of South African society? How do ordinary soldiers cope with the issue of HIV confidentiality?
Mr Smit (NNP) asked whether treatment includes anti-retroviral drugs? How do the medical grades-for instance if a person is considered G3K1 in terms of AIDS-prevent disclosure of HIV status to the soldier's commanding officer?
Lt Gen Dr Janse Van Rensburg responded that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within the SANDF is 17 percent. The grading system is such that it will not reveal HIV status. There are 150 social work posts, 10 percent of which are presently vacant. We are looking at all possibilities for treatment, including herbs and vaccine research. We must find a solution within Africa. We support the national health department regarding anti-retroviral drugs. I do not believe the answer lies in these drugs. They are very costly and we do not have the facilities. There are many other alternatives for holistic care. We do have these drugs in all our clinics for all soldiers exposed in the line of duty to HIV for use within four hours of exposure.
Brig Gen Schalkwyk (DP) asked whether the troops in Burundi come from our source? Are they an effective team given the HIV/AIDS problems?
Prof Mabeta (UDM) commented that people in rural and disadvantaged communities no longer have access to health care-including demobilised MK and APLA soldiers. What is being done for these people?
Mr Ntuli (ANC) enquired whether social workers also look after spouses?
Deputy Minister Madlala-Routledge responded to this set of questions. The SANDF are totally behind the government's policy on HIV/AIDS. The United States recognises that South Africa has its own policies. With regards to readiness, she assured the Committee that their soldiers are ready and fit to defend the country.
Earlier this year the troops selected for Burundi competed in a world competition that included soldiers from Britain, Jordan and other countries, in terms of readiness and the troops won.
Briefing by Setai Commission
Addressing Dr Setai, Mr Mashimbye said the report is viewed in very serious light given its expression on the entire defence structure of our country.
Dr Setai, who was accompanied by General Geldenhuys and Col Mbongwana, responded that their inquiry was a politically approved inquiry for the benefit of Parliament rather than yet another commission to contribute to SANDF management.
Mr Smit (NNP) asked him what the general overview and background was, rather than particulars? This would allow the Committee to understand why certain things were omitted.
Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked for his general overall understanding.
Prof Mabeta (UDM) proposed that they have a detailed presentation at a later date.
Mr Mashimbye added that Members previously commented that the recommendations are very vague. But they needed to reassure themselves that the money was well spent.
Dr Setai explained that their terms of reference in November/December 1999 from the Minister, prompted by the incident at Tempe Military Base, indicated that the study would be undertaken. The study was started in January 2000. Secondly, was racial/sectarian discrimination widespread in the SANDF? Initially they had to take a census of every base to learn even the size of the SANDF, and they did so on the issues of Moral, Cohesion and Combat-Readiness. Just the term "racism" prompted difficulties, and therefore we had to focus upon the consequences.
Communication with "faceless people" in Pretoria is the major problem, with instructions sent to bases with no knowledge of the consequences. People are moved around irrespective of family implications. With decentralisation, accountability has suffered. The organisational structure leads to a culture of "who cares!" Applications are not dealt with. Frustrations lead to fistfights.
Mr Mashimbye asked whether the SANDF is implementing the Constitution.
Col Mbongwana responded that the SANDF is governed by the Military Code, which was found to be unconstitutional, but only after members had been unconstitutionally dismissed. The Bench is packed with one racial group. On one hand justice must be done, but must also be seen to be done. With respect to the promotion policy: why was the former Surgeon General not medically boarded when it was known that he was in ill health?
Gen Geldenhuys added that the Minister's terms of reference were triggered by the Tempe incident, but the mandate went much further. It was about the moral aspect and espirit d'corps. They regard their duty as being the establishment of cause and effect. Racism was one of the continuous aspects. Their concentration was on how people within the Defence Force perceive the SANDF. They found a real need for people to tell their stories. Often what they actually needed was someone who would listen. The need for an Ombudsman would continue for some time, albeit perhaps not forever.
Briefing by Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota
Minister Lekota said that South Africa had deployed troops in Burundi; the second batch left the previous day and the third would leave on Saturday. He was disturbed that a political party had issued a statement saying he was in contempt of Parliament. The Department of Defence has no power to deploy troops-only the President. The Constitution requires the President to inform Parliament within seven days of deployment. The Status of Forces Agreement was signed on Friday. The President will address Parliament today, and may or may not speak on this matter.
Mr Mashimbye urged people to read the Constitution.
Mr Ndlovu said they had raised the matter at the Portfolio Committee meeting the previous day. We said that it is unfortunate that Parliament is not briefed before we are questioned by the Press. We well know the Constitutional provisions.
Mr Smit acknowledged that Section 201 of the Constitution allows seven days. But the Defence Review required a clear mandate, public support and an operational plan. They remembered the consequences of the Lesotho operation. There was no reason for secrecy with this operation. Why was Parliament not briefed before this deployment was embarked upon? As an MP he learned more from the foreign media than from my government. This fails the principles of accountability and transparency. The agenda for the session that afternoon so far did not indicate that the President would address this issue.
Prof Mabeta said that the constitutional technicality was understandable. This deployment has happened in support of the government's activities in Burundi following the mediation of former President Mandela. On the lack of information on the duration, the relationship with the United Nations, the Great Lakes initiative; he appreciated the logistical problems, but it was clumsy oversight not to explain this to Parliament.
Min Lekota responded that there is no ceasefire yet signed in Burundi, but the interim government will be installed later this week. The fact that there is no ceasefire has raised the question in international law of the status and funding of this deployment. The Cabinet could not take a decision last week because of a lack of mandate from the United Nations. The Security Council subsequently took a resolution endorsing the process on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. The President insisted that they should await a United Nations endorsement. The operation had no status under United Nations procedures but, in spite of that, the United Nations is supportive. The deployment could not go ahead until agreement of the forces and government of Burundi. Negotiations began on Thursday, and agreement was finally reached at 10 or 11 o'clock on Friday. Min Lekota signed on behalf of the President. The interim government must be installed on November 1 in terms of the Arusha Agreement.
Min Lekota said that the Defence Review does not supercede the Constitution. Furthermore, the President may well address this issue in terms of the New Africa Initiative. He said it would be better were the political parties to telephone him before issuing statements.
The Chairperson, Mr Mashimbye, said he would defend the right of Members of the Committee to inquire about matters of Defence. He invited the Minister to take the Committee into confidence rather than suggesting that they should phone him. He expressed confidence that there would be no violation of the Constitution. What they needed was a closer interaction with the Minister.
Deputy Minister Madlala-Routledge said she hoped that the parties would help them to ensure that South Africans stand behind the deployment in Burundi given the tragedies in Rwanda and Burundi. She commended the members of the SANDF in their bravery to risk their lives to bring peace to the continent.
The meeting was adjourned.
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