In 2004, a bachelor of commerce in banking graduate by the name of Tiisetso Sekgobela, from the village of Sedawa near Hoedspruit in Limpopo, joined the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) through the Military Skills Development System (MSDS).
Today, Sekgobela holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and is the first female to command an infantry battalion in the SANDF and the first woman to command one (7 South African Infantry Battalion) in peacekeeping operations, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Prompted by her fascination with the camouflage uniform and discipline of the military, Sekgobela, through the Voluntary Military Service (VMS) at 3 South African Infantry Battalion (3 SAI Bn) in Kimberly, Northern Cape, completed her basic military training (BMT) and corps training.
Displaying leadership qualities early into her BMT, Sekgobela was given the opportunity to participate in junior leadership (JL) training at the Army Gymnasium later that year, the SANDF said. Upon successful completion of JL training, Sekgobela was selected for the Infantry. As a Candidate Officer she was given the opportunity to study at the Military Academy in 2005 where she achieved a Certificate in Organizational and Recourse Management as well as best student in Criminal Law and Management and Accounting.
In 2006, Sekgobela received her commission as 2nd Lieutenant and was transferred to 1 SAI Bn in Bloemfontein as a Mortar Fire Group Commander. In 2007 she advanced to the rank of Lieutenant and was appointed as an instructor for the Battalion Mortar Crew course. Later in the year Sekgobela participated in Exercise Seboka and Exercise Dibetsa as Fire Group Commander.
Sekgobela was then deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the Advisor to the National Contingent Commander.
Later on, Sekgobela returned to South Africa being diverted to Operational Officer of 1 SAI Bn.
Then, in 2011, she was promoted to the rank of Captain and held various posts at 1 SAI Bn, namely: Company 2nd in Command (2IC) of Alpha Company, Company Commander of the MSDS Training Echelon and the Adjudant. Sekgobela was also recognized as the best practical learner during the Integrated Sub Unit Commanders course in 2011.
In 2012, Sekgobela was appointed as Combat Team Commander for Exercise Seboka at the C Army Open Day where she was able to obtain additional practical experience. In March 2012, Sekgobela became a mother, being blessed with a daughter. As is commonly encouraged in the SANDF, family support was given in the form of Sekgobela’s sister, Mmanoko, a tertiary student at the time who helped the single mother immensely.
Upon returning from maternity leave, Sekgobela was appointed as Echo company commander and trained MSDS members for participation in Exercise Seboka. Her strong leadership skills were visible during the Exercise and she was therefore appointed as Combat Team Commander during the Chief of the SA Army Open Day.
In 2014 she successfully completed the Integrated Sub Unit Commander’s course and four months later was appointed as Support Company Commander and promoted to the rank of Major. Later in the year she was appointed as Battalion 2nd in Command at 1 SAI Bn.
In 2015, Sekgobela attended the Junior Command and Staff Duties (JCSD) course and achieved best overall learner of the course.
Sekgobela became acting Officer Commanding of 1 SAI Bn in 2016 and on 22 September 2016, was appointed as the Officer Commanding of 7 SAI Bn in Phalaborwa as well as promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. History was made in the SANDF as Sekgobela became the first female Officer Commanding in the fighting corps produced by the Military Skills Development System.
Sekgobela, having taken over 7 SAI Bn, established a precision drill platoon which participated in the Chief of Logistics change of command parade. She also established a unit choir which went onto win a provincial choir competition as well as re-established rugby as a sport in the unit.
Her historic achievements do not end there as Sekgobela became the only female woman commander of a United Nations (UN) combat unit in 2018. As part of the UN Organisation Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, Sekgobela was the commander for the South African Battalion, one of three infantry units that comprise the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the only UN unit mandated to engage in military offensives.
Sekgobela returned from the DRC mid-2019 and on 29 October was sent to New York to speak about her experiences at the UN’s conference on Women, Peace and Security. Sekgobela was part of a South African delegation of 10 female officers, all highly experienced in peace keeping or peace enforcement.
Sekgobela stated that it is the responsibility of any female leader to leave a legacy and be able to identify and mentor other female members; she would like to encourage all female members in the organization to reach out to their female counterparts.
“Do not fear to fail or to make mistakes, rather take up the challenge so that you are able to gauge yourself, your weakness and your passion. Being aware of your weaknesses will help you to remedy them and allow you to become a better person for the future.”