SANDF youth employment commitment increasingly hamstrung


With an official youth unemployment rate of 46% for the first quarter of 2021, it’s not surprising two published pieces about military recruitment on defenceWeb attracted high – call that very high – interest levels for a specialist digital publication.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) last week made public its call for military skills development (MSD) volunteers for next year – its stated contribution to providing employment in terms of government’s National Development Plan 2030 with the lofty aims of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality.

The call for military volunteers came just days after Statistics SA released first quarter national employment data. The level of unemployment among youth, generally and taking the ruling party definition into account, are South Africans aged between 17 and 35.

The high number of views of MSD application stories on defenceWeb is an indication, not necessarily of wanting to be a soldier, but of wanting employment in some form or other.

Sadly, the SANDF cannot accept even a fraction of the thousands who apply, let alone those individuals who make it to selection boards.

Last year, the force’s human resources division received 133 000 applications for the two-year MSD training period. Budget constraints in an organisation where 60% plus of its allocation from National Treasury goes to pay salaries saw 1 704 young men and women enter either the SA Army, SA Air Force (SAAF),  SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) or the SA Navy (SAN). When their two years are up only a handful will be fortunate enough to be offered short term contracts – and hence guaranteed employment – while those who cannot be accommodated in the full-time force are expected to become Reserve Force soldiers.

It looks as though this employment opportunity is going to be further limited with indications the call for MSD volunteers will come only once every two years. Consider when it started, the MSD system saw two intakes a year and the future for military volunteers isn’t particularly bright.

Three days after defenceWeb published news on the 2022 MSD intake and shared the application forms, these pages were viewed over 35 000 times, indicating a massive demand for work among the youth. An ever shrinking defence budget and as well as other issues mean the vast majority of those interested in joining the SANDF will be disappointed.

The lack of an effective exit mechanism and reluctance to downsize the SANDF, old soldiers, not fit enough for combat, peacekeeping or border protection, remain in uniform with no place for the young and strong to do military work. This has and will impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the national defence force down the line.