The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been an active participant in the national youth leadership development programme in conjunction with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
This has seen participants, selected the department, make military bases a temporary home while they are taught life skills as well as discipline.
Last May a group of 633 were selected for instruction at 3 SA Infantry Battalion in Kimberley. The overall aim of the programme is to empower through discipline, entrepreneurial skills as well as social development and upliftment skills.
Reports last week suggested government is considering conscription as one way of putting the brake on spiralling unemployment, especially among young people. In an interview with City Press ruling ANC party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said he would support the re-introduction of conscription, scrapped when democratic South African came into being in 1994.
According to the Sunday newspaper he said: “We moved away from conscription too soon. Naturally, we would actually say every youth person may serve X number of years or months in the army to be trained because the army is the most equipped structure that could deal with young people in a structured way.
“Actually, the best engineering capacity in the country is in the army. So that’s what we should be thinking about.”
There is a draft framework on national youth service but it rules out compulsory military training and has yet to be presented to Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister in the Presidency. If he approves the framework it will be tabled to Cabinet for a final decision.
Dr Berenice Hlagala, director of youth development in the Presidency, told city Press the aim of National Youth Service was not military. “There are many aspects to it, including encouraging youth to volunteer at old age homes or government departments and acquire skills in the process.”
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party national spokesman Phumzile van Damme said in a statement there was no place for military conscription in South Africa.
“The purpose of the military is to defend our borders, not to attempt to create jobs. Looking to the military in an attempt to fix our country’s youth unemployment crisis is an admission by government that its economic policies cannot create real employment for the millions of young South Africans who find themselves unemployed.”
While she has ruled out military conscription her colleague Kobus Marais, who recently took over the defence portfolio from David Maynier, did not rule out conscription in the SANDF of the future. He told defenceWeb it could be part of the military in terms of implementing the Defence Review.
He asked whether South Africa needed a bigger permanent force and a smaller reserve force or the other way around with conscription as a method of staffing.
In addition to last year’s youth service camp at Kimberley, the SANDF has also made available the naval base at Saldanha and its De Brug training area outside Bloemfontein to Rural Development and Land Affairs for youth training.