The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) says it is demoralising for soldiers to serve in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) when senior officials are getting away with corruption and incompetence and are receiving political protection and appointments.
Pikkie Greeff, Sandu National Secretary, made the comments at a recent Transparency International Defence Anti-Corruption in South Africa Civil Society Workshop in Johannesburg.
Greeff gave several examples of corruption in the SANDF, such as a commander in Polokwane being moved from one post to another due to procurement irregularities at the base involving things like rations, where he would use his friends to buy items like milk at prices inflated by 50%. Instead of this person being prosecuted in a military court he was simply moved to another position due to political cover, Greeff said.
In another instance, Greeff said it was alleged that a military official in Port Elizabeth was calling up reserve members for a fee and an officer commanding a base in the North West province was placed under suspension after allegations of fraud and tender rigging because he himself pointed out procurement regularities in the South African Army.
Greeff said that an Air Force general has been suspended with full pay for nine years because of sexual misconduct allegations after criticising the 1998 arms deal. He said the general has exceptional expertise regarding avionics but is sitting at home not being utilised due to ulterior motives.
Other examples of corruption in the SANDF pointed out by Greeff include the South African Air Force leasing aircraft from a husband and wife owned company that did not own any aircraft, resulting in troops being stranded when there were problems with the aircraft chartered by these middlemen; and the awarding of contracts that do not go out to tender because they are under a certain amount.
Greeff said that not all corruption was financial – a lot of it was political, with officials being protected due to their political connections, and appointments being made based on political grounds and not merit. For example, a senior warrant officer who was on the receiving end of a rant which included shouting and spitting by the current Director: Force Preparation of the SA Army, Brigadier General Nontobeka Mpaxa, was recently awarded damages of R330 000 by court but has not been disciplined for misconduct. Greeff alleges the same general was caught for drunken driving in Kimberly but the docket disappeared from the court.
Another example of what Greeff calls high ranking cover due to previous political connections involves the crash of a C-47 Dakota in the Drakensberg in late 2012. He said the preliminary accident report shows that the pilots were forced to fly in poor weather even after they protested against it and that the officials who ordered the flight were not court martialled as they should have been.
A similar scenario occurred after the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) when officials responsible for intelligence failures and leaders on the ground who ran away from the fight were not prosecuted.
The Guptagate saga was another example highlighted by Sandu, where blame was shifted to two middle ranking officers who were suspended and found guilty but had charges dropped “in the face of overwhelming evidence that Bruce Koloane misled the entire military into allowing the [Gupta] plane to land. If an ordinary person misled an entire defence force…he would probably be trialled for treason. This person got promoted to an ambassador’s position. This sends a message to soldiers on the ground and to middle ranking officers as well. Why go to the trouble of exposing corruption if you can somehow benefit from it if you know the right people. That’s the spirit that has taken hold of the defence force,” Greeff said.
He pointed out that none of the above examples have resulted in prosecutions or convictions, something made worse by the fact that the military courts have come to a grinding halt over the last three month because someone failed to sign the appointment of judges to the bench. Greeff said that in 2014 the military courts were held up for a month because of the same issue.
The Sandu secretary said that no-one is willing to put their careers on the line by blowing the whistle or even disobey senseless or illegal orders. He said a huge part of the problem is that political influence has taken over in the defence force with decisions taken on the basis of former political affiliation and that people with higher political rank override those with higher military rank in the SANDF. “It is very demoralising for a solider to serve in a defence force where these things are going on,” he said.
Greeff was of the opinion that probably the only thing that will solve these issues is time as personnel keep moving through ranks and the SANDF has already seen a huge exodus of politically affiliated appointees due to age and attrition.