The non-appearance of Major General Stephen Marumo, the last permanent Chief Defence Reserves, at last week’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting raised eyebrows and questions.
Marumo was, according to the Reserve Force Volunteer quarterly publication, appointed effective September last year. However, Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana has been Acting Chief Director for some time, with little seen nor heard of Marumo.
JSCD co-chairs Cyril Xaba and Mamagase Nchabeleng used a Parliamentary Communication Service statement to call for a permanent appointment to “drive the strategic implementation” of decisions taken at the October Reserve Force indaba. The statement makes no mention of why Marumo was not on hand with defenceWeb reliably informed his place was taken by Niyabo-Mana. The tone of the statement indicates there is currently no-one permanently heading the Reserve Force component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
One who interpreted the non-appearance as Marumo no longer being Chief Defence Reserves is Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais. “While the meeting was in progress, I formulated and forwarded a question on who and what is happening to Minister Thandi Modise,” he told defenceWeb.
In the summer 2023 edition of the Reserve Force Volunteer, a foreword penned by Marumo has it the two-star commits to avail his experience and know-how “every step of the way”. This is in the light of Reserve Force capability and participation in operations being “a critical requirement”.
The joint JSCD chairs, as per the Parliamentary Communication Service statement, have it: “The SANDF is currently undergoing a review process on the role, cost and rejuvenation of the reserve force and this process should have included the ideas and foresight of a permanent Chief Defence Reserves to ensure that in the medium to long terms the incumbent implements a strategic outlook they would contributed to shaping”.
On last month’s indaba, appreciation was expressed for the event that “sat and engaged to develop the reserve’s strategic role and direction in delivering on the SANDF mandate”. The JSCD requested the “final product to be adopted at the Reserve Force Indaba lll be tabled to enable the committee to make its own contribution”. The first indaba was in September four years ago and reports on the second give no date indication as to when number three might take place.
On the current state of the Reserve Force, the JSCD noted concern about the average age – 46 “and increasing” – of South Africa’s part-time soldiers with strategies needed for rejuvenation and to enhance viability.
“Also concerning,” according to the statement, is the reduction in budgets which could see “further decline in the reserves”.
“These concerns would be best driven and solved by a permanent Chief Defence Reserves.”