Former defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on a number of occasions said words to the effect South Africans have to decide what sort of defence force they want.
She never expanded publicly on her thinking in this regard and while it can be seen as positive in wanting citizen involvement, just how it might happen is still unknown. With a new minister (Thandi Modise) now at the helm, “wait and see” is probably the best option.
The question of how South Africans know what the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is doing has to be asked. After all, if they aren’t told what “their soldiers” are doing, how can they provide any worthwhile input?
The most obvious sources of information is the internet, providing numerous social media platforms, news and opinion as well as websites and finally, print media in the form of daily and weekly newspapers.
The SANDF is, except for a brief period post-1994, not a media friendly or responsive organisation.
Making matters worse is its “window on the world” (www.dod.mil.za) is not deserving of the “window” noun.
The site is operational at present, following a redesign and revamp but still sadly lacking information providing insight into what exactly the SANDF is, what it does and how. It has been “hiccupy” since September 2018 when defenceWeb was informed “contractual matters” were affecting the site. It then went from almost stagnant to non-existent with “contractual” reasons again trotted out.
Earlier this year a redesigned site, short on content, made its appearance. Since then there have been desultory content additions but it remains thin – very thin – on useful information.
With the exception of the Joint Operations Division, none of the portals assigned to the services (SA Air Force, SA Army, SA Military Health Service and SA Navy) carries any information.
This means a person wanting to know, for example, if the landward force has a dedicated tank regiment and how many of what types of tracked fighting machines it operates would not obtain it from the most logical source – the national defence force’s own website. The same applies to people seeking information on the number and location of infantry battalions, the number of aircraft types in service with the air force, the numbers and types of ships in the maritime service or even, how many military hospitals and sickbays military medics staff.
The website boasts seven other portals – all, with the exceptions of Joint Operations and Human Resources, carrying an “under construction” message. Human Resources lists only address and contact details of provincial recruitment offices and the Defence Reserves link provides only contact details of a secretary. This is a far cry from the previous regularly updated Defence Reserves portal.
Divisions slated for their own portals are logistics, the inspector general, legal services and chaplain services. Also listed is Defence Intelligence but doubt has to be expressed about military spooks ever taking the opportunity to tell Mr and Mrs John Citizen who they are and what they do!
defenceWeb will maintain its regular checking of the site in the hopes it will – in the not-too-distant future – be a repository of useful information. Hopefully this will include recruitment informstion, as SANDF recruitment processes are difficult to access and defenceWeb is often inundated with queries from people wanting to join up, but not knowing how or where to go,.
To its credit, the SANDF is using its Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube channels as public information sources. Another positive step is broadcasting the TV show ‘A Force For Good’, which starts on 26 October on the Mzansi Magic channel on DStv.
The SANDF must not be rest on any supposed laurels and the cash-strapped military should to launch a media offensive to explain what the defence force is, why it’s needed and why it should be adequately funded.
This becomes more important in the light of a recent survey (Attitudes Towards the South African National Defence Force 2014-2020) which found the public is generally more critical of the SANDF, especially as regards awareness, pride, trust, performance evaluations and transformation.