SANDF faces paralysis if recruitment not addressed – JSCD

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That South Africa needs a defence force is not in question. However, what is worrying to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) is “a thin feeder system” with the potential to “paralyse” the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

At the same time, the lack of suitable recruits for the four services of the national defence force can diminish deployment capabilities, according to a Parliamentary Communication Services statement.

The statement quotes Cyril Xaba, co-chair of the JSCD and co-chair of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) as saying the JSCD is “cognisant of funding challenges” and wants “re-imagination” of alternative solutions.

“The committee is supportive of enhancement of initiatives such as the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) and the University Reserve Training Programme (URTP) but is acutely aware of the funding challenges. The question that must worry us is how, within current budgetary constraints, do we ensure rejuvenation of skills in the SANDF and improve morale of our soldiers,” is the verbatim quote the statement credits Xaba with.

The committee, according to the statement, understands the reasons to reprioritise budgets and implement cost saving initiatives such as MSDS intakes every alternative year. It adds there is concern continued implementation of these initiatives will adversely affect the military’s capability to execute the defence mandate.

The JSCD wants the SANDF, itself and Parliament’s second defence oversight committee – the PCDMV – to interact with National Treasury “to highlight the unique impact the lack of funds” has on the national defence force. The committee said workable solutions have to be pondered as interactions with treasury continue to address the funding challenge before the system collapses.

“The lack of a fully functional feeder system has led to an ageing force, especially the Reserve Force with an average age of 45. Compounding this challenge is stagnation in the system with soldiers occupying the same rank for prolonged periods of time. This has a direct link to the neutral morale results of the Department of Defence (DoD) Morale Survey 2021/22.”

Major General Malungisa Sitshongaye, Chief Director HR Development in the SANDF, told the JSCD the alternate year MSDS intake, if continued, “could result in the reduction of military capabilities in executing the defence mandate.”

With fewer fresh recruits, there will be fewer personnel competent to conduct successful military operations, requiring use of Reserves for internal and external operations. A shortage or under-utilisation of military instructors will impact training and mission readiness.

Sitshongaye cautioned a general decrease in students at the Military Academy and the sustainability of academic programmes are “severely negatively impacted” due to inadequate student enrolment, as MSDS students are redirected to SANDF primary tasks.

Natural attrition results in the average personnel loss of arond 1 650 SANDF members a year and a bi-annual intake could delay replacement of members, Sitshongaye noted. “If this is pursued over an indefinite period, it will result in an ever-reducing workforce, impacting negatively on the DoD’s primary mandate.”

Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana, Director: Defence Reserves, told the JSCD the MSDS issue affects the Reserve Force as it has not had any new MSD intakes since 2016. The Reserve Force would like to institute a separate MSDS intake for the Reserves, as Reserves make up a substantial number of SANDF soldiers deployed on operations like Operation Corona (border protection and safeguarding).