The reserve component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) met this month (October) for its second indaba with a ministerial plea for “serious discussion” of the reserve system in view of “tremendous pressures” facing domestic and external deployments.
The plea by Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla “implored” those present to “make contributions and provide perspectives on Reserve matters”. This so “a dialogue will form the long-term view of our defence force from the perspective of [the] Reserve [Force].”
In support of Makwetla’s plea, SANDF Chief of Staff (CoS), Lieutenant General Michael Ramantswana, called for “inputs on the progress made in terms of identified focus streams from the last indaba and experiences gained in the meantime” from delegates including senior Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) and SANDF representatives. He gave the indaba an insight on what SANDF senior command sees as the future strategic direction of the SANDF part-time component.
Opening the two-day indaba in Thaba Tshwane on 25 October, Makwetla said the gathering should build on the proceeds of Reserve Indaba One of September 2019 and “seriously discuss” the Defence Reserves service system.
Respected defence and military analyst Helmoed Heitman was another on the presentation menu. His topic was the strategic importance of a reserve force with Captain Jacques de Vries from the Directorate SA Army Reserve reporting Heitman as saying “the public still likes and respects the [national] defence force”.
Makwetla referred to Heitman’s presentation as provoking a constructive way into thinking creatively about a realistic Reserve Force for South Africa. “There is much that we can do to make it attractive for a citizen to be a part-time soldier, where this approach should not only exploit resources from the private sector, but also from Government. For its part, could surely offer something that makes their lives better when they serve in uniform.”
Other speakers were Acting Chief Defence Reserves, Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana as well as senior officers from the Joint Operations Division, in the form of Lieutenant General Siphiwe Sangweni and “Chief Human Resource environment”. Among topics covered were national security and joint force employment requirements, as well as the total human resource requirement for the SANDF.
The Reserve Force has been in the spotlight recently given the increasing use of Reserve Force members to cover a shortfall in permanent SANDF staff levels. The Department of Defence (DoD) is cutting personnel numbers by 3 000 over the next several years in line with the reduced defence budget and turned to the Reserves to fill the gap.
In the 2022/23 financial year, the SANDF exceeded its reserve force manday allocation by 142% (2.8 million versus the target of 1.9 million), according to the latest DoD annual report, as Reserve Force soldiers were needed to “augment military operations, execute administrative compliance tasks and to continue to effectively secure military installations.”
The heavy use of the Reserve Force is “due mainly to an increased requirement to support military operations, human resources capacity required in respect of compliance measures and to secure military installations.” As at the end of July 2023, Reserve Force mandays had been exceeded by 251 521.