Ramaphosa names new SANDF Chief and other senior posts

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When long-serving SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief General Solly Shoke retires at the end of May, current Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, will move into the office suite reserved for South Africa’s top soldier as the only general – and the most senior officer – in the force.

His appointment, along with that of other service and division chiefs, was announced on Wednesday evening by President Cyril Ramaphosa – Commander-in-Chief of the national defence force.

Welcoming Maphwanya, the President said in a broadcast statement that he is “a highly decorated officer with vast operational experience” whose military career started in 1978 in the then armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) – Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Since 1994 he held numerous positions in the SANDF. He was General Officer Commanding (GOC) South African Special Forces in 2006 and GOC of the SA Army Infantry Formation in 2016. In 2019 Maphwanya replaced Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo at the Joint Operations Division.

According to the Presidential statement Maphwanya will serve as SANDF Chief for five years.

The man he replaces was South Africa’s top soldier for 10 years with Ramaphosa making mention of Shoke’s “years of distinguished service” to South Africa and its people.

“He led the Military Command of the SANDF with distinction and specially as principal policy adviser to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans,” the President said adding he “admired and appreciated Shoke’s professionalism, diligence and wise counsel”.

Other changes in SANDF senior management at Military Command level announced by Ramaphosa included the appointment of the first woman to sit on the Command Council.

She is Major General Thalita Mxakato who becomes Defence Intelligence Chief on 1 June.

Also a former MK soldier, Mxakato has been in the SANDF since its formation in 1994. Before joining Defence Intelligence she was deployed in the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) and the Defence Inspectorate Division.

Of her appointment, Ramaphosa said it was “a significant – and long overdue – development in the ongoing effort to advance the position of women in our armed forces”.

Other appointments confirmed by the President include a permanent SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief replacing acting incumbent Lieutenant General Mzayifani Buthelezi; Major General Siphiwe Sangweni who takes over the number one seat at the Joint Operations Division and a new Surgeon General in the form of Major-General Ntshavheni Maphaha. He will take over from Lieutenant General Zola Dabula.

The new man in charge of the airborne service of the SANDF is Major General (to become a three-star when he takes up office on 1 June) Wiseman Mbambo.

He is also a former MK soldier and positions he filled in the SAAF and the SANDF include national defence force Deputy Chief of Staff, OC AFB Waterkloof and Chief of Staff Air Operations.

Sangweni brings to the Joint Operations Division hands-on experience from continental peacekeeping and peace support deployments in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The national defence force’s new Surgeon General – Maphaha – takes up office on 1 November and brings to the position experience gained as Officer Commanding 1 Military Hospital and Chief Director: Military Health Force Preparation.

Ramaphosa said the new senior command appointments demonstrated “the value of effective succession planning and development of talent across all institutions as critical as the SANDF.

“I am confident under the leadership of these men and women, the SANDF will continue to fulfil its constitutional responsibility to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people,” he said.