Umzimvubu Regiment call-up inquiry reviewed

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The sorry saga of the Umzimvubu Regiment call-up and deployment in July 2021 under Operation Prosper has seen a review called for of findings by a SA Army board of inquiry (BoI).

As far as can be ascertained, this is the first time in the history of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) a review of BoI findings has been asked for.

The Umzimvubu BoI follows a litany of woes related to the call-up in response to widespread unrest, looting and violence initially in KwaZulu-Natal but spreading to Gauteng in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s brief stay in the Estcourt Correctional Services prison. Apart from a number of deaths in the more than 800 men and women who responded to CArmy’s Reserve Force call-up on 14 July last year, a lack of accommodation, medical facilities, rations and even blankets were reported. The personnel control system was apparently also woefully inadequate with soldiers’ personal details either not on the personnel system or not able to be uploaded. This led to non-payment for the Operation Prosper call-up.

Pressure on the senior command cadre of the landward force; Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise; other parliamentarians and even a written appeal to SANDF Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa appear to have influenced the appearance of Umzimvubu Regiment and its disastrous call-up on a portfolio committee agenda.

This week’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard, among others, of “identified administrative challenges” with the call-up. “Some people” were found not to be eligible for enlistment, while others had criminal records and had transgressed the SANDF Military Disciplinary Code. Personnel files also had to be verified for enlistment and salary payment.

“Members not meeting enlistment criteria were the main reasons for non-payment,” according to the presentation which continues: “Following these developments, a decision was taken to convene an Inquiry dated 28 December 2021. Any intended payment to affected members was stopped pending the outcome of the investigation” and adds “some” regiment personnel deployed in KwaZulu-Natal were paid.

The presentation has it 135 men and women were “accordingly enlisted” with 673 excluded. Reasons for exclusion are given as previous convictions in the SANDF and civilian criminal records; former Forces members who did not integrate and “68 members whose enlistment were completed after the BOI was convened” This meant 605 out of 808 volunteers were not enlisted.

All the toing and froing as regards the call-up has seen more R28.5 million spent, including “salary projections” of R23.9 million, military transport and bus fares (R324 000 plus) and rations in excess of R4 million from a “commercialised mess”.

Then the crunch – “The inquiry was completed and handed to the convening authority. It has been referred back due to some short comings as identified. Such short comings had to be addressed (sic)”.

The BoI review, parliamentarians heard, will be finished by the end of September. It will then go to the “convening authority” for a decision on the way forward.