Mapisa-Nqakula’s SEA task team proposes “a small start” for defence SMC


One recommendation of the ministerally appointed task team on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is the establishment of a sexual misconduct centre (SMC) separate from the military.

The 124 page report states “a civilian-led victim empowerment and support SMC, outside of the chain of command must be created”. The report authors – Nandisile Mpumlwana, Britta Rotmann, Dr Mongezi Guma, Major-General Daphne Nodola and Professor Cheryl Hendricks – maintain SMCs are best practice and propose the South African one, when and if established will report directly to the Office of the Minister, currently Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

The task team was brought into being by the Defence and Military Veterans Minister in the wake of complaints regarding sexual exploitation and abuse in the national defence force. Complaints of sexual misconduct were, according to her foreword to the report only released this month (March) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting travel and research work, from national defence force personnel “among themselves” and against women in peace support operation mission areas.

On the SMC the report notes it must be victim-centred, independent of the chain of command and staffed with people with appropriate training and capacity for referrals and to deal with trauma. “The SMC will house a 24/7 victim support line and be responsible for prevention; co-ordination; victim support; monitoring and evaluation; and research in relation to sexual offences” it continues, adding “a few defence forces” instituted independent centres as best practice for reporting SEA allegations and providing victim support. The task team cites SMCs in the Australian and Canadian defence forces as “worthy models to emulate”.

“If implemented it would establish the SANDF as a role model in this regard on the continent.”

The report urges Mapisa-Nqakula and the Department of Defence (DoD) leadership to implement the task team’s recommendations allowing the South African military “to move ahead in its transformation journey and create a defence force with the ethical, moral and professional stature envisaged by those who transitioned the country to a democracy”.

Mpumlwana’s task team also has a stark message for those in command and leading both the SANDF and the DoD.

“The leadership sets the ethical, moral and professional standards of behaviour in the DoD. The leadership must publicly acknowledge there is a sexual misconduct problem in the DoD. The leadership must indicate its regret that the DoD has become an unsafe space for victims to report sexual misconduct. The leadership must collectively communicate their disappointment to members of the DoD and immediately commit to rooting out this behaviour. The leadership must take direct responsibility for implementation of the recommendations in the report.”

The SEA task team report also recommends South Africa’s military leadership “must develop a strategy that institutes specific measures to eliminate gender discrimination, tacit acceptance of sexual misconduct and sexualised culture, as well as break the silence informed by fear and non-responsiveness. The leadership must promote professionalism, ethical transformative leadership and an ethos of nurturing and caring, especially for those who are young and vulnerable in the DoD. A culture of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct should be embedded at all levels of the DoD”.

As always with investigations and the reports they produce, finance is, especially in the cash-strapped national defence force and its DoD parent, a problem area. The SEA task team proposes overcoming this recommending the DoD “start small” in implementation and work toward expanding the proposed SMC either in the DoD or, more broadly in Cabinet’s security cluster or even “to serve government departments as a whole”.