Always a new use for soldiers


Industry bête noir Terry Crawford-Browne Friday made the observation on the Business Day letter’s page that soldiers are expensive cheap labour.

I agree. Alas, there is always somebody who sees collateral utility in the military. Earlier this month it was building houses and training pilots, earlier this year it was escorting cash-in-transit vehicles. Last week, it was the turn of Transnet.

Fed-up with copper thieves, Business Report newspaper wrote last Wednesday that the state transport utility has requested government to deploy the Army along rail corridors.

“But a Transnet Freight Rail spokesperson, who could not be named, said the government had given no positive response on military intervention. The only thing that happened was the deployment of metro police for passenger trains.”

Transnet’s Themba Gwala told the paper the organisation was losing 27km of cable a month “and the situation now called for government intervention.”

The SA Press Association has reported that thieves have cost Transnet and state power utility Eskom R330 million in the past five years, “a figure that did not include millions spent on security to ensure even more cable was not stolen.”

Part of the reason Transnet want soldiers is because they have seemingly run out of patience and trust with the private security industry. The paper quotes an unnamed spokesman saying cable theft was exacerbated by the fact that, in some instances, the security firms colluded with the criminals.”
“You can replace the firms many times but you are basically recycling the same people and just changing names. This is because when a new company comes around, it looks for experienced people and finds them in the existing companies,” said the spokesman.

The trouble is, human nature being what it is, soldiers could also fall into temptation. The cold light of experience gained elsewhere is that the placing of soldiers in positions where they can be corrupted is exceptionally dangerous for democracy and for the fabric of the society concerned.   

kulula PR disaster

kulula, the budget airline, last week earned itself the ire of the Air Force when it reportedly sought some publicity for releasing some Reserve Force pilots to fly President Jacob Zuma.


The Citizen newspaper reported Zuma was “being flown to official engagements by pilots from budget airline Kulula because of a chronic shortage of qualified air force personnel.”

The paper added up “to 12 pilots are on loan to ‘assist` 21 Squadron transport the President and his entourage across the globe,” according the airline`s director of flight operations Martin Louw.

The tabloid continued that as “part of a deal reached in the past two months, Kulula pilots flew Zuma to Italy for the G-8 summit on July 8, and again to Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, for a Non-Aligned Movement conference days later.

“The air force has a shortage of pilots, and so we were requested by their chief to assist in flying the President,” Louw told The Citizen.

The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans strongly denied the report in a response put out – interestingly enough – by PR company Oryx Multimedia.

The retort does not seek to deny there is a shortage of pilots, and the answer to a Parliamentary question later in the week confirmed the transport/maritime line was short 30% in “core force” pilots and 47% in navigators.       

For this reason the SAAF have long used Reserve Force pilots and navigators. In addition, the presidential Boeing Business Jet is unique in the air force inventory but similar to the Boeing 737 flown by kulula and other local short-haul airlines.

Many of their pilots are former SAAF pilots and being current on the Boeing makes them far more attractive as presidential pilots than drafting in Lockheed Martin C130BZ Hercules or Dassault Falcon pilots, for example.         

The put down then explains the place and function of the SANDF`s “essential components:  the core force and the Reserve Force”.

Both are used by the Department of Defence for fulfilling the functions and mandates of Defence. “The Reserves may take up other employment but when required, the Department of Defence has first right of call up.”

The statement next quotes minister Lindiwe Sisulu`s June Budget Vote speech in which she said the military`s partnership with the aviation sector “is in line with our reserve force policies, and contributes to national and international aviation safety. In the permanent employment, of the Defence Force we have enough pilots for all our needs.
“However we do call on the reserves as an when we need them, in most of the cases they actually ask us to provide them with necessary flying hours for their necessary experience.  The reserve force pilots started their career at the Air Force; they have the necessary security clearance and remain available to the Air Force and the country at all times.”

There you have it. One hopes the ruffled feathers will soon set and that the President can sit back and relax while Reserve Force aircrew take him to and from his engagements. And quite a fillip it is for the oft-overlooked “campers” too.