Proof of the seriousness with which the South African military establishment takes the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) in its ranks comes with the immediate suspension of an SA Navy officer following allegations of sexual assault.
The officer, whose rank is not known, is stationed at Naval Base Durban and was formally charged following allegations of sexual assault earlier this month. A statement issued by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said the officer, either a lieutenant commander or a commander as he/she is referred to as “a senior officer”, will be placed on administrative suspension to allow “investigations to be conducted without any interference or influence”.
The reported incident at the home port of the SA Navy fleet patrol vessel component comes weeks after Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula went public to rebuke a Democratic Alliance (DA) National Council of Provinces (NCOP) member for apparent ignorance around incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation in the SANDF.
Her statement said “allusions” made by Isaac Sileku on soldier brutality and SEA were ill-informed.
“Cabinet,” according to the statement, “in 2018 expressed satisfaction with interventions made in addressing reported SEA cases against SANDF members deployed in support of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).
“In April the same year, the SANDF held a three-day conference dealing specifically with elimination of SEA from the military with the main aim of expediting efforts to eliminate SEA in the SANDF. Minister Mapisa-Nqakula established a ministerial task team to deal with reported SEA cases in December 2019. The four-person task team is led by Thoko Mpumlwana, who previously chaired the gender commission, with retired Major General Daphne Nodola, Britta Rotmann and Dr Mongezi Guma the other three members.
“The ministerial task team is tasked with investigating, reporting, management and finalisation of SEA related cases reported since 2014 in external and internal deployments. A task team priority on inception was to establish a hotline to operate for the duration of the team’s mandate period. Its purpose is to ensure SANDF members have a platform to report sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse including instances or incidents where cases were reported and there was no follow-up or investigation.
“It is unfounded to say the minister is not concerned about matters related to such serious offences. The DA statement is misleading, misplaced and ill-informed.
“The DoD will sustain all efforts to eliminate sexual abuse and exploitation incidents by soldiers deployed internally and on continental peacekeeping and peace support missions. The minister is committed to acting swiftly against perpetrators of SEA related cases and incidents. Ill-discipline and criminal behaviour in the ranks of the SANDF is despised and will not be tolerated.”
Last November a leaked Department of Defence (DoD) document stated 41 sexually related cases were reported in the SANDF in the previous 18 months with 26 finalised, 13 guilty verdicts and 11 acquittals.