Retired lieutenant general Temba Matanzima last week oversaw his final conference as South Africa – and Africa’s – first military ombud.
The former three star general has been at the helm of the SA Military Ombud’s office since it was established in 2011. His time in office has been marked by a successful complaint resolution rate of more than 80%. The primary objective of the ombud office, based in Centurion, is to deal with complaints regarding the service conditions of men and women in uniform. These are submitted by soldiers themselves as well as members of the public.
Matanzima hosted a number of local conferences aimed to spreading the message of the role and importance of an ombudsman in defence forces continentally and internationally during his almost nine years in office. His commitment to better service conditions saw him undertake visits to South African soldiers deployed on peace support missions continentally as well as those doing border protection in terms of Operation Corona and visiting military bases and facilities across South Africa.
Speaking at the conference in Ekhurleni, Matanzima said his office would continue lobbying African governments to establish ombudsman offices after his departure.
He is reported by Johannesburg daily The Citizen as saying “ombudsman institutions are critical to a peaceful Africa and should be both independent and impartial institutions”.
“They must continuously aspire to leverage administrative oversight, accountability, democratic governance and alternative dispute resolution within the armed forces to enhance the credibility of citizens in uniform.
“The military environment without a doubt has evolved from being authoritarian to recognising the fundamental rights of members in the armed forces. Africa has to define standards and countries must exchange experiences and models to attain a continental solution,” he told delegates.
Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Kebby Maphatsoe reinforced the work of Matanzima’s office in his conference opening address. He told delegates it operated independently and provided effective oversight, especially in the areas of accountability, good governance and human rights.
“It is fitting that this symposium, on oversight over armed forces in the contemporary African context, happens at a time when there are serious challenges to civil and military relations in Africa.
“This is against the background of armed conflict plaguing our continent. The military, as the guardian of the state, also needs to be guarded. Hence the establishment of oversight institutions such as the Military Ombudsman,” the deputy minister said.
African Union (AU) Major General Trust Mugoba, chief of staff of the continental body’s African Standby Force (ASF), praised South Africa for the initiative shown in establishing a military ombud.
“Democratic control and oversight over armed forces is paramount,” he said adding “oversight instruments may be country specific in seeking to promote and uphold good governance, the rule of law and respect for the legal framework”.