When General Solly Shoke hands the symbolic instrument of command to his successor on 28 May, he leaves the office of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief as its longest serving occupant.
He took office on 2 May 2011 after a stint as SA Army Chief that started in 2004 and when he retires will have been chief of the national defence force for just on 10 years.
Shoke’s successor is currently the top man at the Joint Operations Division where Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya remains in charge until receiving his fourth star and becoming the only general in the SANDF.
Shoke’s time as South Africa’s top soldier is five years longer than that of South Africa’s present ambassador to Mozambique, Siphiwe Nyanda. He was CSANDF from June 1998 to May 2005 and succeeded Georg Meiring, the first national defence force chief since 1994. Meiring was SANDF chief for just over four years, excluding a six month stint as then SA Defence Force (SADF) Chief before the SANDF came into being.
Between Nyanda and Shoke, another SA Army general Godfrey Ngwenya was SANDF Chief. He held the post for just short of six years before retiring in May 2011. He, like Nyanda, continued to serve the country and was ambassador to Angola.
All SANDF chiefs to date served in the landward force before being charged with the responsibility of the most senior position in the national defence force.
When announcing the appointment of Maphwanya and other Military Command Council (MCC) members earlier this month SANDF Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated the new SANDF Chief would hold office for a five year term.
The most senior position in the SANDF and its predecessor – the SADF – was dominated by generals from the landward force with names such as Jannie Geldenhuys, Constand Viljoen and Magnus Malan springing readily to mind.
Admiral Hugo Biermann (1972 to 76) and SA Air Force (SAAF) General Stephen Melville (1958 to 1960) were chiefs from other combat services in the SANDF’s predecessor.