South Africa is rebuilding its Defence Reserves in order to enlarge the pool of trained military personnel available for deployment as peacekeepers in support of the country’s foreign policy that stresses human security and development in Africa.
The reconstruction of the Reserves follow close to two decades of neglect and underfunding that saw the bulk of the South African National Defence Force`s reserve units wither away.
The SA Army has since 2006 increased its investment in the Army Reserve and has also deployed several reserve infantry companies on peace support duty, where Lieutenant Colonel Roger Keeton, officer commanding (OC) of the 1st City Regiment, says they have acquitted themselves well.
His Grahamstown-based reserve air assault infantry battalion is scheduled to deploy an infantry company with the regular 6 SA Infantry Battalion to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in January next year and another in July. Both will be deployed there for six months.
Keeton was appointed OC of 1st City in 2006 after previously serving as Second-in-Command at Midlands Commando, also based in Grahamstown. At the time, the unit had withered to a regimental sergeant major (RSM), a civilian clerk and12 troops.
“I brought leader group across from Midlands Commando and ten started recruiting.” The unit, the country`s senior Scots regiment – it wears the Graham of Montrose tartan – now musters about 850 officers and men.
“It has been a big push but the leader group are committed, that`s the big thing,” Keeton adds. It`s a fantastic team. I`ve got a committed RSM; the adjutant is an ex-regular pilot.” A number of other key posts are also filled with former regular force personnel, including that of unit personnel and logistics officers.
“There`s a vast pool of experience out there. I`ve interviewed over a 100 and appointed 80, including company commanders and specialists such a medics and mechanics, “the whole spectrum”.
“If we can`t use them at 1st City, we can post them to other regiments.”
As a result, 1st City last year beat 24 other reserve infantry units to the prize as best Reserve Force Infantry Unit. “The General Officer Commanding [the SA army Infantry Formation] awarded us the trophy… The unit is very proud of it,” Keeton says.
He adds that the focus this year is on readying for the DRC deployments. In the meantime, his soldiers are serving as guards and chefs at other units, including the Infantry School and at 1, 4 and 8 SA Infantry Battalions.
Privates are paid about R130 a day and Keeton says “it is fantastic to have that amount of cash flowing back into the Eastern Cape”, SA`s poorest province. “Every soldier deploying probably feeds ten mouths,” he says, noting that many volunteers are otherwise unemployed. When deployed outside SA, soldiers earn up to R400 a day in allowances in addition to basic pay.