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Sisulu witnesses swearing in of SA’s first military ombudsman

altLieutenant General Themba Matanzima has been sworn in as South Africa’s first military ombudsman at a ceremony in Pretoria today, which was attended by the minister of defence, the public protector and other dignitaries.

Sam Gulube, Secretary for Defence, said that, “The mandate of the military ombudsman is to investigate complaints lodged in writing…by a member of the defence force regarding his or her conditions of service,” Gulube said. However, non-South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members can submit complaints about members. If someone is not happy with the ombudsman’s decision, he or she can take the matter to court.

Matanzima was sworn in by North Gauteng High Court Justice Francis Legodi. The Lieutenant General swore to perform his duties as military ombudsman without fear or favour and said he would “perform to the best of my duties so help me God.” Legodi reminded him that the order he was given is binding and valid for the next seven years.

“I am extremely proud that I will be the first military ombudsman of this country,” Matanzima said, and added that his office could serve as a force multiplier for the defence force and should not be seen as a threat to the SANDF but rather an office that will empower its members. “Its establishment is for the benefit of the defence force and its members,” he said.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said that “today marks a remarkable moment in the history of our Defence Force,” as the establishment of the Military Ombud Office is part of “our efforts to improve the conditions of service of our soldiers and streamline processes within the South African National Defence Force”.

“The Military Ombud is a soldiers’ appeal office to internal military grievance management procedures. It is therefore an essential ingredient in the pursuit of a systematic approach to a democratic rights-based military culture.”

Sisulu went on to say that the Office of the Military Ombud will ensure the armed forces respects the rule of law; promote transparency and accountability; identify military problems, strengthen confidence in the military on the part of both the public and defence personnel and improve the overall quality of life of members of the South African National Defence Force and their families.

The history of the military ombudsman goes back to the 1998 Defence Review, Sisulu said, as the review conceptualised a military ombudsman but the concept was never implemented. In 2005 the Portfolio Committee on Defence revived the idea, and in March this year Parliament passed the Military Ombud Bill, which was signed into law by the President this month. The Military Ombud Act of 2012 made provision for the establishment of an independent Office of the Military Ombud and appointment of the Military Ombudsman.

Sisulu thanked Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela for ‘nudging’ the process along. Madonsela said she was struggling to deal with complaints from defence force members and wrote to Sisulu suggested military matters be handled by the military, and Sisulu agreed.

“I want to congratulate you on something that’s never been done here before,” Madonsela told Sisulu, and commended her for quickly getting the law passed. “I hope military veterans will gain swift justice,” she said. She added that perhaps the ombudsman’s mandate should be extended to cover tender fraud and irregularities in tenders awarded.

Former president Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela, United Democratic Front leader Bantu Holomisa and many senior military officials attended the ceremony at Thaba Tshwane today, with chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe J Mudimu saying farewell to Matanzima as he departs the SANDF and moves into his new position.

Pic: Left to right: Sisulu, Matanzima and Legodi.

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