Women advancing in the SANDF


According to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula the national defence force today has six female major generals and 46 women in the rank of brigadier general.

Speaking at an International Women’s Day event at AFB Zwartkop, where she interacted with mainly junior female officers from the four services, the Minister highlighted the achievement of 7 SA Infantry Battalion’s Lieutenant Colonel Tiisetso Sekgobela. She is currently commander of the South African battalion of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) attached to the UN MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the advancement in terms of female flag and general officers in 22 years was good but more needed to be done to ensure “our armed forces are fully representative of the men and women of South Africa and reflect the demographics”.

Twenty-two years ago there was a lone female major general in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Today the force counted six female two-star generals out of 40. Female brigadier generals currently number 46 out of 172.

Admirals and generals apart, Mapisa-Nqakula told about 200 female officers at the air force base, the SANDF opened up to the extent that women were now able to serve in all areas of the armed forces – including combat roles.

“This,” she said, “was an unprecedented move given the history of the erstwhile SA Defence Force (SADF) which, while having enlisted women, white women only, restricted them to support and administrative roles since 1974.”

As examples of what had been achieved by women in the national defence force since democracy, Mapisa-Nqakula said as of December last year 102 women were deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the three battalion-strong Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), including a battalion commander. Other significant numbers of women were currently in the SANDFSPECC (SA National Defence Force Special Component) (23) and aviation components (22) of MONUSCO. The DR Congo mission is currently the single largest UN peacekeeping and peace support operation with over twenty-thousand personnel. This includes more than fifteen thousand troops out of a total of 18 316 uniformed personnel.

“They are in all working environments and have done outreach programmes in their areas of deployment, including assisting an orphanage, engagements with women and starting hygiene training, Ebola prevention and feeding children among other activities. All this is in general protection of civilians, mostly women and children,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

As far as sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) was concerned the Minister said she was comfortable with what had been achieved to date in this area especially as regards continental deployments. Questions still remained about SEA in internal deployments. She asked whether SEA allegations and complaints on deployments such as Operation Corona were dealt with as urgently as those on external deployments and whether similar measures were in place for internal deployments.