Women breaking ground in the SANDF


South African women, particularly non-white women, are taking leading roles in all arms of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), from combat pilots to platoon commanders.

Major Mandisa Mfeka is South Africa’s first black female combat pilot. She grew up in Durban and was introduced to the world of aviation when watching aircraft at Virginia Airport. Initially she thought of becoming a doctor, but the aviation bug had bitten and after considering aeronautical engineering, decided to join the South African Air Force. Good grades meant she met all the requirements and she successfully joined in 2008. Two years later she started at the Central Flying School in Langebaan and received her wings in 2011.

On the naval side, lieutenant Gillian Malouw, 28, is the first female submarine navigator. As officer of the watch on board the SAS Queen Modjadji, she is in charge of navigating the vessel. “This means that when I am on watch, I am accountable to the Officer Commanding for the safety of the boat in all aspects,” she said.

Malouw joined the sea cadets in Grade 7 after her cousins had already been members of the South African Navy for a while. She was accepted to start basic military training in January 2010.

With the South African Army, Lieutenant Dimakatso Raisibe Margaret Maila serves as the only female platoon commander with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the Monusco peacekeeping mission there.

Women in uniform with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC are already rare and, according to the SANDF, no other Monusco contributing country has women in vulnerable areas of responsibility.

“Lieutenant Maila leads her platoon from the front as she conducts day and night foot patrols,” the SANDF said, in villages wracked by violence and human rights violations. South African soldiers have been shot at and repelled ambushes during routine patrols.

Earlier this year Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe 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, including a battalion commander (Lieutenant Colonel Tiisetso Sekgobela). 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.

Mapisa-Nqakula also said that today the SANDF has six female major generals and 46 women in the rank of brigadier general. Twenty-two years ago there was a lone female major general in the SANDF. Today the force counts six female two-star generals out of 40. Female brigadier generals currently number 46 out of 172.