South Africa’s soldiers treated shabbily


It doesn’t take a major stretch of the imagination to see South Africa’s soldiers, whether they wear camouflage, diving or flying suits and even the white associated with medicine, as government’s “go to guys”.

Think of foreign policy, particularly as it pertains to Africa and peacekeeping operations. Soldiers of various musterings along with specialists from other arms of service are deployed to support foreign policy initiatives and as has happened (notably in the CAR and Sudan), the ultimate sacrifice is sometimes the result.

Then there’s search and rescue with various components of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) working collaboratively and in co-operation with other government and provincial agencies to save lives.

Any soldier worth his or her salt will tell you theirs is a calling not a job and they are fully aware of the risks they will be exposed do during the execution of their duties. They know what they have signed up for and are “public servants” in the fullest sense of the word, unlike many of their counterparts who seem to delight in making the “service” government departments are supposed to deliver wishful thinking rather than reality.

Why then does government treat the SANDF so shabbily?

Take accommodation. Just a week ago Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, pointed out to the Parliamentary Defence and Military Veterans Portfolio Committee that only half the living quarters of soldiers are in an acceptable condition. Overall, just 38% of all SANDF facilities can be considered as being acceptable.

One Arm of Service Chief, the Navy’s Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, is on record as saying there will be no progress in turning Naval Station Durban into a fully-fledged naval base until such time as proper accommodation is found for the men and women who will make the base work. He is right.

Surely this is not the way to treat people a government is willing to send into places and situations where they have to put their lives on the line?

The just released Twenty Year Review provides another insight into how government sees – or doesn’t see – its men and women in uniform.

The SANDF doesn’t rate a mention, not even in the glossary to the 160 plus page report.

That’s just not right!