Apart from somewhat poor communication with its various external audiences, there also appears to be a lack of communication internally at the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
defenceWeb, by virtue of being in the defence and military news business, has regular contact with those tasked to supply information to South Africa in the broadest sense of “the country”.
Thus it was the Directorate: Corporate Communication (the “mouthpiece”, if you want of the SANDF) was asked for information on military exercises planned for the year. After a second round of prompting, we were informed there would be no exercises in the calendar year 2021.
Unknown to defenceWeb and apparently the SANDF “communication corps”, Chief Army had a different take.
Opening the 2021 Junior Command Staff Duties Course at Army College before defenceWeb received the official line Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha told junior officers on course Exercise Ukuthula would take place this year.
‘Please explain’ was the gist of a further enquiry by defenceWeb to SANDF Corporate Communications. When no speedy answer was forthcoming, a telephonic enquiry brought to light General Mbatha had been requested to provide details.
Finally on 2 February, a response came from Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, Director: Corporate Communications.
It reads: “Ex Ukuthula is a practical phase of the Junior Command and Staff Course and will be subject to the alert level(s) status as well as the ability of the SA Army to implement measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic”.
It’s all as clear as mud and defenceWeb cannot inform readers if there will or won’t be an Exercise Ukuthula (or any other one) this year.
In yet another example of poor communication, defenceWeb sought input from SANDF Corporate Communications after SANParks indicated the national conservation agency called in soldiers to assist with demolition of a man-made dam in the Kruger National Park. Could Mgobozi’s men (and women) find out which unit or regiment was involved and what form the assistance took? The response confirmed “elements” of the national defence force were in the iconic game reserve helping SANParks personnel. With what, defenceWeb still doesn’t know. Neither can we inform readers it was Sappers doing demolition work, soldiers doing traffic control or even medics posted to assist in the event of accidents.
The Department of Defence website still remains offline, as do branches of service websites due to the expiry of a contract between the DoD and State Information Technology Agency at the end of September 2020.
At the end of the day, the SANDF is funded by South African taxpayers and any number of them have more than a passing interest in defence and military matters, evidenced by the thousands of daily visitors to the defenceWeb site.
The public, and the media, have a right to be informed about SANDF activities. The SANDF needs to get its communications properly operational.