Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) publicly acknowledged the “exceptional leadership” of outgoing SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke last week conveniently omitting a spat between the two some nine months ago.
Last June the same committee issued a statement via Parliamentary Communication Services taking what was termed “strong exception” to the non-appearance of South Africa’s top soldier at a briefing. One of Parliament’s two defence oversight committees was to be briefed on what to date saw the single largest utilisation of military personnel in South Africa since 1994 – the arrival of COVID-19. The committee, jointly chaired by Cyril Xaba and Mamagase Nchabeleng, pointedly mentioned the non-appearance of the South African military’s only four-star general as being without apology.
Nine months on and the man who will vacate the office suite allocated to the SANDF’s senior commander is on the receiving end of fulsome praise from the same committee and the same co-chairs.
“It is important to acknowledge the exceptional leadership by General Solly Shoke, who has steered the ship since his appointment as Chief of the SANDF in 2011. Together with his leadership team, they have made themselves available for scrutiny through the oversight work of the committee. We thus wish General Shoke well as he prepares to retire end of May,” the JSCD statement said.
The brief verbal merry-go-round following Shoke’s non-appearance as well as him not apologising saw the JSCD maintained “CSANDF has an obligation to report to the JSCD” pointing out the White Paper on Defence “states the SANDF shall be subordinate and fully accountable to Parliament and the executive”.
Xaba went on to say it was not the responsibility on the Department of Defence (DoD) accounting officer (Secretary for Defence, at that time Dr Sam Gulube) to report on force levels, force preparation and deployment of soldiers – “CSANDF must be present”.
Talk of institutional memory and succession planning is – to use an Americanism – a dime a dozen – in the SANDF and the corridors of Parliament. Parliamentarians chosen to oversee the national defence force would do well to refresh their memories checking to see what they previously put in the public space before going on a charm offensive.