A whip hand


Photos published in the Sunday Times in September showing the state of the barracks at Doornkop military base south of Johannesburg can only be described as a disgrace. Not the photos, the state of the base.

For those who have for
gotten, the photos depicted bare rooms and incredibly filthy ablution blocks.

Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but do the soldiers there have no sense of pride? Or of hygiene? What about the base commander? And the base sergeant-major? Have they no pride? Or sense of hygiene? Or sense of shame? Where is the Occupational Health and Safety types, or the SA military Health Service (SAMHS) – or the Department of Labour?

Does anyone expect us to send our sons and daughters to the military for them to live in such filth?

One would have expected to find such dilapidation in Burma or the Congo, not in Johannesburg.

We can be sure Doornkop is just the hippo’s ears.

I was strongly reminded of this during Exercise Golfinho during the same month, where South African soldiers stood in contrast to their Southern African Development Community (SADC) peers.

At Lohatlha one saw smart Zambian military police as well as disciplined Tanzanian and Zimbabwean infantry. Also in evidence were smart Swazi, Lesotho and Botswana officers. SA’s soldiers, in their pyjama-suit camouflage uniforms were an unhappy contrast.

One wonders if any Zambian, Zimbabwean, Tanzanian, Swazi, Lesotho – let alone Batswana warrant officer would tolerate what the photographer found at Doornkop. I’m very sure they would not. Why do we?

It appears our officers and sergeants-major have become hopeless compromised on the discipline issue. If Golfinho showed anything it was that there is a strong cadre of disciplined, no-nonsense non-commissioned officers in SADC who can be called on to restore order in the SA military.

Let’s get it done. Let us get the SA Army and SAMHS in particular new, smarter, uniforms. Let us get some SADC sergeants-major in and get them to whip our bases and troops into shape.

There is a precedent: Concerned about the wash-out of black pupil pilots in the SA Air Force, the government asked Zimbabwe in early 200
6 to send instructors and ground crew to the Central Flying School. They remain there still, doing as far as can be determined, a sterling job.