The landward component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is its single largest service with 36 952 personnel making up over half the total force strength of 72 322.
The other two combat components of the national defence force together do not make up half the SA Army personnel component. The SA Air Force (SAAF), according to the latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual report, has a personnel strength of 9 527 and the maritime service numbers 6 389 people aboard and ashore.
The SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) numbers 7 276 in its ranks with logistics (3 886) and Joint Operations divisions (2 006) ranking next on the list of people in service.
The Military Police Division has 1 593 men and women ensuring lawbreakers and other offenders across the four services and the various support divisions toe the line.
The human resources division is tasked with all personnel-related matters, from the number of recruits through to evaluation of suitability for promotion and the all-important salaries paid to each of the over 72 000 airmen, military medics, sailors, soldiers support staff (uniformed and civilian). Human resources counts 1 370 personnel in various disciplines related to the most important resource in the SANDF.
Compensation of employees (CoE), as both Parliament’s defence oversight committees have heard, is increasingly difficult to manage, with National Treasury loath to allocate more from the fiscus to Minister Thandi Modise’s department. Much has been said regarding voluntary exit mechanisms and other methods of cutting the salary bill – at over 60% the largest expense item in the R48 billion plus defence budget.
The age of personnel is repeatedly raised as an area where expenses can be curtailed, if suitable plans are put in place to encourage say, older soldiers, to voluntarily leave the military.
An example of the age of at least some soldiers, at least in the infantry formation, comes with the announcement that Minister Modise will today (Monday, 25 October) be present at AFB Waterkloof to receive the body of a 53-year-old infantry private who died while in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Private Fhatuwani Vhengani, according to the SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC), integrated into the SANDF in 1995 as a former MK member. He was assigned to 15 SA Infantry Battalion, based at Thohoyandou in Limpopo. He was on his fifth continental peacekeeping tour when he died “after a short illness”. He previously served in Burundi (2004/5), DRC (2007) and Darfur (2008/9 and 2011).
Vhengani’s death again brings into focus the age of personnel, especially those at the sharp end of the military, a concern of the South African defence and military analyst corps with doubts expressed about the ability of foot soldiers aged 35 and up to do the job. When difficult climatic and terrain conditions, such as those experienced in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique are factored in, the medical status and general fitness of soldiers has to be considered and evaluated ahead of deployment.