The Department of Defence Ministerial task team (MTT) investigating sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) at the behest of the Defence and Military Veterans Minister has cast its net as widely as the SA Military Ombud.
A statement has it that an “important meeting” on SEA investigation in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was held between the ombud, until recently SANDF Chief of Staff and now retired Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo and Thoko Mpumlwana, who chairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s task team.
The meeting, among others, gave the task team an understanding of the mandate of the military ombud and look into possible avenues of co-operation.
Mapisa-Nqakula wants the MTT to investigate all cases of sexual misconduct in the SANDF between 2014 and the present. Its mandate includes reporting, management and finalisation of cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and offences in the SANDF.
Masondo is reported as saying the meeting was “imperative” as both were tasked with the responsibility of protecting the basic human rights of SANDF members.
The MTT chair is a former chair of the SA Commission for Gender Equality and she has three team members in addition to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans. Thabang Makwetla. Britta Rotman, a legally trained professional with knowledge in sexual abuse, Dr Mongezi Guma, a public speaker and consultant on human rights, management and organisational development and Major-General Daphne Nodola, who will assist and guidance to the task team on dealing with military structures are the other MTT members.
At the MTT launch, Mapisa-Nqakula said victim support was a major component of its mandate. The MTT must take steps to determine what measures are in place to protect and support victims from when a matter is reported until finalisation. Additionally it should make recommendations on a legislative, policy and practical level to improve victim support and protection and explore administrative discharge and/or removal of the alleged perpetrator from the same environment as victims.
A Department of Defence document leaked to a media house in November, stating 41 sexual related cases were reported in the last 18 months, with 26 finalised, 13 guilty verdicts and 11 acquittals. The document revealed Cape Town had the largest number of cases with 17 reported, 13 finalised, seven people found guilty and six found not guilty between 2018 and 2019. Following Cape Town was Pretoria with 12 cases reported, six finalised and four SANDF members found guilty.
“We are deeply concerned by the view that South Africa remains one of the highest-ranking countries in the UN’s rate of troop contributing countries conducting sexual abuse in mission areas,” said Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, Cyril Xaba, in November.
“For some reason, I think the focus we have on sexual exploitation and abuse in the deployment areas, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, made us blind to the scourge internally. SEA is not confirmed to SANDF members deployed externally. This is because the preliminary view of reporting sexual harassment, SEA and sexual offenses paint a worrisome picture. There are seemingly high numbers of incidents and cases unreported, given the nature of the military command and control structure,” Mapisa-Nqakula said when announcing the MTT last year.