2021 Umzimvubu Regiment call-up problems persist

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It’s two years plus since the disastrous Umzimvubu Regiment Operation Prosper call-up and there’s still no satisfactory outcome for 815 Reserve Force soldiers as regards pay or compensation for the families of 25 of their colleagues in arms, now deceased.

The sorry saga of what some observers call “a botched call-up” has gone through two boards of inquiry (BOIs), been the subject of questions from public representatives on both Parliament’s defence oversight committees, to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Legal Services Division and even made it as far as the Auditor-General’s office.

This was seemingly a dead-end with defenceWeb informed “for this specific deployment, the AGSA (Auditor-General of SA) could not audit it as part of the PFMA cycle that was concluded on 31 July 2023 as the information was submitted too late by the DoD (Department of Defence)”. A regiment source, speaking anonymously for fear of victimisation, said this was not so as the information needed by AGSA was prepared a month before the due date by the acting adjutant for the 2021 call-up as requested by Umzimvubu Regiment Officer Commanding. It then went to the SA Army Infantry Formation and the SANDF Human Resource Division on 30 June. Sources in the regiment said while it “will never be proved, this appears to be a variation of the Stalingrad defence”. This is a legal delaying manoeuvre employed by Jacob Zuma’s legal team to keep him from court appearances. It is widely speculated the former South African president’s brief incarceration in the Estcourt Correctional Service facility led to the widespread violence and looting across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in mid-2021. The Umzimvubu Regiment call-up was part of the response by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration to end that specific outbreak of violence, in terms of Operation Prosper.

“The bottom line is those who responded to the call-up instruction still haven’t been paid for their time in uniform,” a regiment source said adding, “matters were made worse by unsatisfactory conditions”. These include the part-time soldiers apparently not listed on the necessary personnel documentation, as well as sub-standard accommodation, in many instances without serviceable ablutions and even mattresses.

The last “official” word on the 2021 Umzimvubu call-up came from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise. Replying to a question by Kobus Marais, DA shadow minister for her portfolio in June, she said: “The BOI on Umzimvubu Regiment is with C SANDF’s legal office for review and assessment on recommendations made by C Army,” adding “further actions can only be taken after finalisation of the legal process”. This, some see as another Stalingrad tactic which they maintain is wrong as Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha reportedly approved the outcomes of the second BOI at the end November last year.