The Military Ombud received almost four times as many complaints about conditions of service in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) than bad and poor conduct by uniformed personnel in the 2020/21 financial year.
Staff at retired general Vusi Masondo’s Ombud office in Centurion recorded 212 complaints for investigation from airmen, military medics, sailors and soldiers with 56 regarding conduct, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard last week.
Masondo told parliamentarians on the JSCD jointly chaired by Cyril Xaba and Elleck Nchabeleng, 29 “other” complaints were logged for further investigation. These had to do with non-compliance of lockdown regulations as well as a lack of enforcement, military veterans’ benefits as well as complaints “outside” the Ombud’s jurisdiction.
Service conditions, also brought to Parliament’s attention by the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC), constitute by far the majority at 71% of complaints.
For the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), DFSC highlighted the “absence and lack of” doctors and registered nurses at all three military hospitals – Cape Town, Tempe and Thaba Tshwane.
Service termination; remuneration; the work environment; victimisation; promotion and demotion; service benefits including funeral, medical and pension; as well as appointment and appointment procedures are some specifically named in Masondo’s presentation.
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to origin of complaints in the SANDF “other ranks”, listed below non-commissioned officers (NCOs), are second highest at 21. Fifty complaints came from flight/staff sergeants, sergeants, corporals and lance corporals.
Junior officers, up to captain, went to the Ombud with19 complaints and sergeants major, the backbone of the military discipline system, sought Ombud recourse on 16 occasions.
Gender breakdown, Masondo told the JSCD, is in line with SANDF gender demographics. This saw 74% of the 297 complaints lodged by men. This trend, the retired three-star general noted, “is consistent with previous years”.
There are, according to the Ombud, more unhappy soldiers in Gauteng than any other province with South Africa’s military capital Thaba Tshwane in the nation’s economic hub accounting for 47% of complaints. A distant second is Western Cape on 17% with the remaining seven provinces accounting for 36%.
Surprisingly, Masondo’s office was contacted seven times by members of the former non-statutory forces who never integrated into the SANDF and are thus not legally allowed to ask for Ombud assistance.