Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) took “strong exception” to the absence of South Africa’s most senior soldier from a briefing where the single largest deployment of military personnel in democratic South Africa was the major agenda item.
A Parliamentary Communication Services statement issued on Friday 19 June, after non-appearance of General Solly Shoke, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) chief, has it the four-star general’s non-attendance “without an apology” was not good enough. The statement comes on the heels of comments by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party MP and committee member Kobus Marais after Thursday’s no-show.
According to the Parliamentary statement, issued on behalf of JSCD co-chairs, Cyril Xaba and Elleck Nchabeleng, Shoke and Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, were invited to update the committee on the “deployment of soldiers in line with recent letters of deployment from the President and the Department of Defence’s (DOD) COVID-19 related activities”.
Marais, DA shadow defence and military veterans minister, said the day after the non-meeting committee members took exception to Shoke’s non-appearance. “The words of Lieutenant General Lindile Yam (SANDF Chief of Staff) that we (Parliament) are not their clients and they only take instruction from the Commander-in-Chief (President Cyril Ramaphosa) was given as an example of disrespect for the legal oversight role performed by members of Parliament,” he told defenceWeb.
According to the Parliamentary statement: “Dr Gulube said it was always understood he would represent the Department of Defence (DoD) as Accounting Officer and present to the committee and he did not inform CSANDF of the meeting”.
“The committee believes the deployment of 76 000 SANDF members would be the largest ever operation to date in the democratic era. Therefore any matters related to national defence force deployment should be accounted for by CSANDF who the President released the soldiers to for utilisation.
“Acknowledging the accounting role of the Secretary for Defence, the committee said CSANDF has an obligation to report to the committee. The committee maintains the 1996 White Paper on Defence states the SANDF shall be subordinate and fully accountable to Parliament and the executive.”
Committee co-chair Xaba emphasised “to that extent CSANDF is answerable to Parliament”.
“It is not the DoD accounting officer who needs to report on force levels, force preparation and deployment of soldiers but CSANDF, who must be present when there is discussion on his presentation,” Xaba added.
The JSCD accepted Shoke was not informed of the meeting and resolved he would make his presentation at an as yet unspecified date.