Archive: Building a new SANDF soldier by sailor by airman


The central thesis is that the SA National Defence Force will have to solve its staff problems before it can begin to address its funding and operational shortfalls. HR2010 argues that unless drastic changes are made to personnel administration, staff costs will continue to gobble up over half the military’s annual budget. The SANDF will continue on a downward spiral, less and less able to deploy peacekeepers – or anyone else – in support of President Thabo Mbeki’s ambitions for Africa.

Building a new SANDF soldier by sailor by airman

22 August 2004 

It`s cover reads “June 2002”, but by June 2004 the Department of Defence`s (DoD) Human Resources 2010 (HR2010) strategy document had still not made it into the public domain: A terrible fate for a well-conceived plan. A second version of the document has now succeeded where the first failed – it was published in full on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group`s website ( in September. (Look quickly before some webmaster restricts access!) The central thesis is that the SA National Defence Force will have to solve its staff problems before it can begin to address its funding and operational shortfalls. HR2010 argues that unless drastic changes are made to personnel administration, staff costs will continue to gobble up over half the military’s annual budget. The SANDF will continue on a downward spiral, less and less able to deploy peacekeepers – or anyone else – in support of President Thabo Mbeki’s ambitions for Africa.


Sorting out SANDF`s personnel problems key to freeing funds for acquisitions, operations: DoD strategy document

The SA National Defence Force will have to solve its staff problems before it can begin to address its funding and operational shortfalls, a Department of Defence (DoD) strategy document says. A new version of the DoD’s Human Resources Strategy 2010(HR2010) was recently released in Parliament. Unless drastic changes were made to personnel administration, staff costs would continue to gobble up over half the military’s annual budget. The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) would continue on a downward spiral, less and less able to deploy peacekeepers in support of President Thabo Mbeki’s ambitions for Africa, according to the document. “The strategy itself is based on the premise that it must provide solutions to solve the main HR (human resources) problem areas which, if not addressed, will lead to the deterioration of the DoD’s HR composition and thereby the inability of the DoD to execute its mission,” the document’s anonymous writers said in an introductory paragraph.

Now that HR2010 is the public domain it could suffer a fate worse than being ignored: it might remain unimplemented. It is a common fate for policy documents: A lucid, well developed plan spells out various ills that need attention and then proposes carefully crafted solutions – many of which might even work. But then comes the crunch – some cures might be unpopular. Political will wilts and fitful implementation follows. Next come disillusionment and denunciation. The policy, now thoroughly discredited, is discarded. A new policy is then found and the cycle begins afresh. Nothing is as disheartening as seeing the damage that can be done to good ideas by people who no intention of implementing them. Like the words attributed to the Roman writer, Petronius Arbiter, they are more interested in creating the “illusion of progress” than the real thing. Its byproducts, confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation, worries them not.

It is common cause that the SANDF)principal problem this last decade has been its “aging and Aidsing” HR profile. Umpteen meetings of the parliamentary defence committees have been told that the average soldier is becoming too old and that HIV/Aids, TB and a variety of other ailments were decimating the numbers available for peacekeeping. Media reports and pundits have been telling us for years that deployments in support of the country`s foreign policy is further undermined by sailors not wishing to sail, soldiers not willing to serve abroad, an air force grounded for a want of pilots and a military health service crippled by too many clerks waiting on too few doctors.

Many changes to the DoD`s personnel system since its establishment were the result of negotiated settlement between the pre-1994 government and the then-liberation movements rather than the outcome of any coordinated and planned strategy. While some have been beneficial, the side effects of others have degraded the readiness, output and efficiency of the SANDF. Some of the latter include the ineffective implementation of the SANDF`s current service system – that has led to the ageing and stagnation, especially at lower rank-levels; low morale and a consequent loss of expertise; perceptions of a lack of discipline; and, a deteriorating health status and representivity imbalances at certain levels and in certain musterings. In addition, the introduction adds, “the development of a coherent HR strategy to give direction over the next ten years has been hampered by uncertainty regarding the nature, appropriateness and affordability of the SANDF`s force design, force structure and establishment table. “The DoD`s HR strategy should ideally be informed by a relatively stable force design, force structure and establishment table,” the writers lament in both versions of the strategy document. In this regard, it is distressing to note that two years after the original plan and ten years after the foundation of the SANDF, there is still nothing approaching finality on these issues. But to return to the document:

Current Situation

Although the Constitution holds the main function of the SANDF is the defence of the Republic against any external aggressor, HR2010 observes that in “reality the RSA faces no external military threat and the SANDF is largely involved with secondary functions, which have, in fact become the primary task.”The document also dryly observes that the funding dichotomy caused by this has left the department in a continuous state of flux, so that, according to Version 1, “personnel are suffering from ‘chance fatigue` brought about by continuous uncertainty”. The language was subsequently modified for Version 2. It`s common cause, however, that contradictory funding imperatives have caused a ” seemingly interminable transformation process with no clear steady end-state in sight,” with continuous uncertainty about issues such as security of tenure, threatened base closures, possible retrenchment and a decline in operational capacity. Although everyone is agreed change and transformation are necessary, the uncertainties they have wrought have considerably lowered morale, “itself a considerable risk for any military.” Another factor to blame for the malaise was “the lack of an establishment” that had contributed towards “undue rank inflation” – a factor that makes international co-operation difficult. It is generally acknowledged abroad that South African commanders and staff officers two grades higher in rank than their foreign peers. Australia, which operates the Meko 200 frigate, virtually similar to the SA Navy`s new Meko A200 “patrol corvettes” are skippered by lieutenant commanders, the SAN`s by full captains. In naval circles, corvettes are smaller vessels than frigates, yet Australia`s “larger” ships have lower ranked commanding officers. This cannot be right!       

The writers of the 1996 White Paper on Defence foresaw an all-volunteer SANDF comprising “a relatively small Regular Force, including a civilian component, which is backed up by a sufficiently large part time force.”This structure was seen as “extremely cost effective” and allowed for flexibility in force levels according to the internal and external security environment. The 1998 Defence Review suggested a balance between personnel, operating costs and capital renewal of approximately 40:30:30. It also estimated that the departmental budget, divided by the average personnel cost per individual, could carry a viable full-time personnel component of about 70,000. This had not been achieved. Discounting the strategic defence package (SDP) allocation, the personnel budget in 2001/2 amounted to 53% of the defence budget, which left little for operations. The paper also suggests that staff tests had found the 40% figure too low, and suggested 45% instead.

Regarding the Reserves, other than not determining what the White Paper meant when calling for a “relatively small” Regular Force and a “sufficiently large” Reserve, there were also differing viewpoints within the DoD about the role of the Reserves, “for example whether it is to be an integral part of the SANDF`s force design or whether it is to be regarded purely as a wartime reserve.” The writers of HR2010 opined that ifthe latter view prevailed, the intentions of the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review could not be met.

They also lamented the lack of an integrated planning process to “synergise the potential contribution of the Reserve Force with that of the Regular Force” as well as the under-funding of the Reserves that has left it unable to train and meaningfully contributing to national defence. If starved of funds long enough, the Reserves would wither and its ability to regenerate would be lost. This would leave the full-time personnel budget gobbling up over half of the total defence budget and would continue the decline in “defence outputs.” That point has already been passed, though not yet irrevocably.

The Future

HR2010 is a transformation/change management strategy and not an implementation plan. “Therefore, like any other strategy, it should not be equated with an implementation plan.” Nonetheless, it foresees a SANDF radically different from today`s. HR2010 introduces a “new employment ethos for uniformed personnel which is in line with international practice, discarding the inherited ‘cradle-to-grave` stagnation-riddled and unproductive employment ethos in favour of a more flexible and developmental-focused way of serving, thereby releasing more funds for operational commitments while also ensuring a regular throughput of well-qualified personnel who, having completed an optimal stint of military duty, can assume meaningful occupations in civilian society and contribute to the strengthening of the economy. Through this new approach, the One Force Model, as expounded in the Defence White Paper and Defence Review, will truly become effective.” It also recognises the need for a well-disciplined, motivated and happy workforce. “Without discipline, a military force cannot exist, much less participate in operations and deployments. Without motivation there can be no effective soldiering, or soldiers may find the necessary support lacking. Unless personnel are happy in what they do and in the way that they experience the organisation, there can be no esprit de corps, trust and pride in the organisation.” Amen, is all this writer can add.

Strategic Issues

v      Affordability of HR Composition. The current macro-composition is unaffordable and is absorbing funds that should be spent on operating costs.

v      One Force Model. A lack of direction and uncertainty regarding the “One Force model” has led to the withering away of the Reserve Force and the bloating of the Regular Force. At present the SANDF can only deploy about 3000 of its 59,000 regulars (five percent), and hardly any reservists on peace support missions. About that number are already deployed and the government is keen to deploy more.

v      Force Design, Force Structure and Establishment. The lack of a defined and stable force design, force structure, establishment and comprehensive post profiles has hampered the progress of HR transformation and has constrains the undertaking of a detailed strategic assessment of the DoD`s ‘as is` profile, compared to the profile required by the ‘to be` structure.”

v      Flexible Service System. The misapplication of the current FSS has fostered a stagnant, over-aged, low morale workforce with unrealistic expectations of life-long employment. There is no cost-effective employment mechanism, no ability to adjust force levels as required, no way of ensuring that the bulk of deployable personnel remains young and fit, no growth in the Reserves and nothing to prepare people for future civilian careers.

v      Skewed Rank-Age vs Mustering Pyramids. Too many of the SANDF`s junior ranks are too old to deploy. Older personnel are generally reluctant to leave their properties unattended, are married, have family responsibilities and are less amenable to hard physical training.

v      Mobility and Redeployment Mechanisms. The dysfunction of the Service Corps and a lack of will to retrench over-aged juniors in a high-crime and unemployment environment means the SANDF can neither re-skill and redeploy those who can no longer be effectively utilised, nor retain scarce expertise, nor ensure that both the Regular and Reserve forces comprised of young, fit and healthy personnel, nor minimise stagnation.

v      Health Status. The number of personnel who do not meet minimum health and fitness standards is increasing rapidly.

v      Pre- and post-employment education, training & development. There is a disconnect between the training DoD staff receive and need before, during and after their employment. Pre-employment ETD is required to quickly normalise representivity while post-employment ETD is required to ready staff for separation.

v      Representivity. Too many specialised and middle-ranking posts are still filled with whites while too many junior positions are black. “Perceptions of insensitive ratio adjustments on the one hand and too little progress to normalise the imbalance on the other hand, contribute to low-morale, the loss of expertise, disciplinary problems and criminal offences, ultimately withering away the esprit de corps in the DoD.”

v      Uniformed Personnel – PSAP Divide. Uniformed and civilian DoD staff are driven by perceptions to make unfavourable comparisons about the regulations and practices governing them, again a factor that leads to lowmorale, poor cohesion and an absence of esprit de corps in the department.

v      Loss of Expertise. The continued loss of operational and functional expertise is endangering the SANDF`s capacity to operate, and to maintain or support strategic defence package acquisitions.

v      Absence of Integrated Learning and Career Pathways. Career and learning paths within the DoD still do not converge, resulting in inefficiency and low-morale.

v      Image of HR Management. Perceptions are that HR practices are inefficient.

v      Lack of a Culture to Practice Sound Labour Relations at All Levels. The DoD is still struggling to get to grips with unionisation among the uniformed component.



Desired End States and Goals


“Only once the DoD has realised the desired end states, will … HR Strategy 2010 have reached its aim, i.e. ‘to ensure the availability of the right quantity and quality of HR in the right places at the right times, who are effectively, efficiently and economically managed and administered`.”

A rejuvenated SANDF. A young SANDF will require Regular and Reserve recruits with a secondary education to be between 18 and 22 years of age, to have passed Grade 12, to preferably be single, not area bound, comply with SANDF medical standards, as well as all other applicable appointment requirements. Recruits with tertiary education may be older than 22, but will still have to comply with the rank-age vs mustering requirements. It is planned that 40% of the Regular Force should be two-year volunteers undergoing Military Skills Development training. “The MSD guarantees a rapid throughput of young personnel to meet those deployment contingencies that require a large number of young, fit and healthy personnel.” The bulk of every MSD year group who complete their initial two-year service afterwards transfers to the Reserve Force and are contractually and/or by law committed to serve. Under “up or out” principles, the maximum age for privates/seamen/airman in the Regular Force and Conventional Reserves is 28. The maximum age for majors and staff sergeants (and their rank equivalents in other services) in the Core Service System (CSS), career stage 2 in the new service system, is between 40 and 45. All personnel will be subject to “concurrent health assessments” and managed according to the findings of the assessments. Only officers from the rank of Major and NCOs from the rank of Staff Sergeant – with top-level development potential and/or excellent performance records – are selected for the Regular Force Senior Career System (SCS), the new career stage 3. “Should the SANDF decide to accept a younger candidate profile for the Joint Senior Command and Staff program (JSCSP) in line with the international norm, alternative career paths are established for senior officers not selected to undergo JSCSP. (Note: the norm for international candidates attending the equivalent program is 35-year-old Majors as opposed to the current SANDF norm 40-year-old Lieutenant Colonels).” To prevent stagnation, a “tenure in rank” policy is in place that specifies the maximum term that can be served in each rank. However special provision is, made to accommodate personnel whose tenures are tied to functional ranks, e.g. professional health practitioners and pilots. This would require the DoD to develop and promulgate an integrated redeployment plan, incorporating profiling (skills requirement assessment), retraining and alternative employment placement to facilitate the redeployment and proper reintegration into civilian society of all privates older than 28 years as well as an exit management framework to facilitate an optimal throughput of personnel.

An Effective, Efficient and Economical DoD personnel corps. The desired end state for HR affordability should be met by, among other measures, “pegging” personnel expenditure at 45% of the total DOD budget, excluding SDP expenditure. “The most effective, efficient and economic HR ratios are defined and derived from the Defence Review statement to have a ‘relatively small FTC and a sufficiently large Reserve Force`. These include the FTC vs Reserve Force ratio, Regular Force vs PSAP ratio, rank level ratios, salary level ratios, post level ratios, tooth-to-tail ratios, corps/mustering ratios, duplication of structure ratios and span of control ratios.” There is also a need for an appropriate Mobility and Redeployment Mechanism that enables the DoD to reconfigure its personnel composition i.t.o. the defined ratios for effectiveness, efficiency and economy.

A Practiced One Force Model. This will require the Reserve Force being incorporated, managed, budgeted and planned for in the DoD`s force design and “strategic direction process”. In addition, its budget/resource allocation must be sufficient to ensure that it can function effectively as a reliable provider of trained, ready and cost effective Reservists. It was foreseen that the MSD would feed up to 8000 new Reservists into the system every year. Reserve units would be expected tocontribute substantially to the recruitment of MSD personnel and would have to ensure the proper integration, administration, ETD and career development of their personnel. They would also, in close collaboration with the DoD Redeployment Agency, establishes partnerships with organised business to facilitate civilian employment opportunities for Reservists. Also contemplated is a voluntary cadet system (not the old “school cadets”) that makes provision for the affiliation of young people to Reserve units. In this way Reserve units will actively contribute towards youth development through activities that may include adventure training and leadership development and the creation of a positive image of the DoD among the youth. The approach also provides for a tertiary education grant system for advanced training, inter-linked with Reserve service commitments, based upon the US ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) scheme. “The aim of this grant system is to serve as an incentive for Reserve Force service, to rejuvenate the Reserve Force`s leadership and to supplement the SANDF`s scarce highly skilled combat and technical pool of expertise. This grant system is available for high performing school leavers who sign up with the Reserve Force and who want to be qualified in disciplines that will benefit the SANDF`s advanced combat and technical domains. Personnel utilising this system will have to pass officer`s selection and will have a specific Reserve Force service commitment.”

A New Way to Serve implies the DoD migrating its staff to a new service system by 2007. HR2010 planners foresee an SANDF Regular component consisting 40% of MSD 2-year service personnel, 40% CSS and 20% SCS. CSS personnel will be engaged on flexible service contracts ranging from 4,6,8,10, 12 to 15 years at a time, coupled to integrated reskilling for re-entry into civilian society to “prevent stagnation in this component.” In addition, “to meet the objectives of the New Service System, all personnel who join the SANDF (Regular Force) are ‘being prepared from Day 1 to leave the SANDF`.” This will require a comprehensive redeployment and reintegration system that makes provision for the skills assessment, retraining, social integration and alternative employment placement of personnel who can no longer be utilised. Also required will be a fully supported and best-practice managed DoD Redeployment Agency, based on the model of public-private partnerships, to offer a professional, sustained and seamless counseling, career advice, aptitude and potential assessment, retraining, social integration and alternative employment placement service. SANDF personnel`s prior learning and experience will be accredited and certificated to provide formal recognition for alternative employment placement purposes. To accommodate privates in the CSS, the ranks of “Private First Class” and “Master Private” will be created. No more than 10% of Regular privates may be offered CSS contracts and their service is contractually terminated if they are still Privates by age 28. “All entities entrusted with the execution of this strategy should note that the non-realisation of the above projected savings due to any pause in implementing the new service system, will unavoidably lead to a continuous deterioration in the DoD`s ability to deliver. More funds will have to be spent on an increasingly ineffective and inefficient workforce that is aging and incurring higher health liabilities inherent in aging, at the cost of force preparation and operational deployments. The SANDF will face “block obsolescence” with regard to personnel. In addition, improvements of service conditions and benefits are automatically added to the defence budget, while the inflator in other areas is not proportionate to that applied to personnel expenditure. In order for the SANDF to retain any semblance of viability, the only remedy will then be a substantially enhanced Defence Budget to carry both the current personnel corps and to phase in large numbers of young and fit members within a very short timeframe, whilst also meeting continuing operating costs and capital renewal needs.”

An Optimally Representative DoD requires the SANDF to become and remain broadly representative of all South Africa`s citizens at all levels and in all occupational classes and musterings. HR2010 stipulates a force composition of 64,68% Africans; 10,22% Coloureds; 0,75% Indians and 24,35% Whites. It notes that the HR composition within the respective Services and Divisions are influenced by, amongst other factors, their provincial concentration and the rate at which highly specialised musterings can be filled. The plan also allows for “talent scouting” within the public and private sectors, youth foundation training and the recruitment of tertiary qualified “Designated Persons” along with the necessary coaching, mentoring, fast tracking and succession planning to promote the affirmation of Blacks, women and disabled persons.

Excellent HR Service Delivery presupposes a single-point HR system to co-ordinate and orchestrate the DoD`s and SANDF`s corporate HR management. It will also require commanders, managers, supervisors and functionaries at all levels to adopt an “ethos of excellent client-orientated service delivery” in order to improve client satisfaction and morale in order to enhance individual and organisational outputs.

Harmony Between the Uniformed and Civilian Components is to be achieved by bringing closer alignment between the regulatory provisions that govern the DoD`s uniformed and civilian components. Common orgeneric HR management and administrative matters pertaining to both the DoD`s uniformed and civilian components will be governed by non-differentiating HR practices.

Retained Operational and Functional Expertise. The challenge is to ensure the DoD acquires and retains appropriate operational and functional expertise in its Regular, Reserve and PSAP components “to sustain the force design, in the most effective, efficient and economical way.”HR2010 foresees the creation of an Advanced Employment Agency Mechanism to find and place scarce expertise, for example, to maintain new arms acquisitions, and to provide the “surge capacity” that may be required for certain deployments. It is hoped to make the DoD, win time, “a high-order employer of choice for top performing school leavers.”

Labour Peace will, in part, be achieved by establishing an independent DoD Service Commission or Defence Remuneration Board, analogous to the “Armed Forces Pay Review Body” in the United Kingdom, which is properly mandated and empowered to make periodic recommendations to Parliament regarding the appropriate Service Conditions, including pay, and service benefits. “This is necessary in order to attract and retain scarce expertise, especially in view of the staffing requirements that the main equipment being acquired through the Strategic Defence Package, will pose and in view of the fact that the DoD finds it difficult to retain scarce expertise due to the more lucrative remuneration offered by private industry,” the document says. Line commanders and managers at all levels will also have to learn to practice sound labour relations as an integral part of their HR management function and all DoD and SANDF personnel, particularly at the lower to junior levels will need to understand at least the “basics” of sound labour relations, including their rights and duties within the military context.

A problem the document does not address, the solution of which is critical to success is the training of officers, noncommissioned officers and civilian leaders in the DoD. The ROTC idea, long promoted in this journal, is as welcome as it is overdue. However, unless these officers are trained as such, it will all be for naught. Our publisher has many times said to nodding heads in receptive audiences that the SANDF and its SADF/Union Defence Force predecessors have not trained proper officers – willing, ready and able to command, take responsibility and be held accountable – since the late 1940s. Instead, it has been handing out commissions to functionaries. This can be seen in the decade or so it on average takes officers to receive their Deed of Commission, the absence – still – of any oath of office on commissioning day. It is also not clear why personnel are not required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution upon enlistment, a requirement in most democracies – and dictatorships!          

HR2010 concludes with the caution that the attainment of the nine end states “will require significant effort and the will to execute.” The warning adds that “success … is dependent on the support of all commanders and managers at all levels, as well as the support of stakeholders in civil society.”And that`s the rub. Anything less than full implementation is failure. Failure means no credible military force to underline our foreign policy. That equates being laughed of the international stage. Yet, as HR2010 itself concedes, pushing the plan through will be tough, especially in today`s risk-averse command-by-committee DoD. Pressure will be overwhelming to compromise. This must be resisted. It is incumbent on us, as “civil society stakeholders” in the media, Parliament, industry, unions and think tanks to act in the national interest and cajole, through praise and criticism, DoD leaders, at all levels, to stay the course.