Despite teething problems and challenges, the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) is making a meaningful contribution in bettering the conditions of serving members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Established in 2010, the DFSC’s mandate is to, among others, conduct research and make recommendations for improvements of salaries and service benefits of members of the SANDF on an annual basis, policies in respect of service conditions and the promotion of measures and setting standards for effective implementation of policies.
Chaired by Prof Edna van Harte and assisted by nine other Commissioners, the DFSC has lost no time in meeting their obligations. Besides conducting assessments of military bases in and around the country, the Commission has also travelled abroad to visit SANDF soldiers deployed in peacekeeping missions.
Speaking at the official opening of the DFSC satellite office at SAS Wingfield, Cape Town on Tuesday, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula noted that the Commission was her “eyes and ears.”
“They are able to pick up things which (I am) not necessarily aware of and draw my attention to those,” she said, “Together we can then find a solution.”
She continued: “Without the interaction between this independent entity and members of the SANDF, we may not be aware of some of the frustrations, concerns and challenges which our forces have at the different bases.”
Explaining, Mapisa-Nqakula says that SANDF members feel free to express themselves to the independent Commissioners, who are then able to raise any issues that they are having related to conditions of service.
Over the past six years, the DFSC has successfully undertaken a number of projects, including proving inputs into the Defence Act amendments and the 2015 Defence Review, exercising oversight over the implementation of the recommendations of the interim DFSC and recommending Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) adjustments for members of the SANDF.
A major achievement of which Mapisa-Nqakula is very proud is that of awarding Death Benefits to beneficiaries of members who pass away while deployed in internal or external operations for which no international compensation is paid.
Mapisa-Nqakula explained that the SANDF never had a compensation policy for members who died in combat. Dependants of those killed whilst deployed under the banner of the United Nations (UN) are compensated by the UN. However, the dependants of those killed whilst serving on other SANDF missions abroad (under a bilateral agreement) were not covered.
“This suggests that you’re treating your soldiers differently,” Mapisa-Nqakula says, “You (may) get to a point where members will prefer to be deployed under the banner of the United Nations rather than to be deployed under the banner of a bilateral agreement.”
“I’m very happy that we now have that compensation,” she said. “Today we have a compensation policy (that) is now being implemented.”
Mapisa-Nqakula is mindful of the need to build a relationship between the DFSC and the Military Command Council. “They need to understand that the world is opening up its military, she said.
However, the DFSC faces a number of challenges. One of these is delinking salary from rank for members of the SANDF.
“Following research and extensive benchmarking, the DFSC came to the realization that delinking rank from salary is a complex matter and may be too costly for the SANDF. Other alternatives are being explored in light of the socio-economic challenges in the country,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Another concern for Mapisa-Nqakula is that the DFSC has underspent their budget and that she would be directing the DFSC leadership to “unblock whatever challenges there may be.”
Mapisa-Nqakula recognised that as taxpayers money is being used, the military is being urged to open up “so society can rally behind you.” She says that she is finding herself “having to play a balancing act between the military and the Commission,” as sometimes the military leadership didn’t understand some of the Commission’s recommendations.
“I’ve got to find a way of ensuring that are compromises in the process,” she said. For the DFSC “to be even more successful, the SANDF for its part needs to foster an even closer and supportive role with the DFSC.”
Referring to the major contribution made by the Defence Works Formation in reinvigorating the bases and buildings occupied by the SANDF (the DFSC Office at SAS Wingfield was renovated by the Regional Works Unit Western Cape), Chairwoman van Harte noted that the procurement process for the Defence Works Formation could be improved upon. It would appear that the renovation of ‘Building 99′ at SAS Wingfield was delayed due to bureaucratic processes. She said that the funding or procurement model just for construction work will have to be reviewed, as “the procurement process can’t be one size fits all.”
When defenceWeb asked about the Commission’s relationship with the various Defence Force unions, van Harte acknowledged that unions have a constitutional right to exist, “but there is tension because unions also have the potential to weaken the command and control structure.”
Noting that the military felt it important that the command and control process not be interfered with, she said: “One of our recommendations is going to be that there needs to be a process whereby we can unlock the blockage that there is currently and create a platform where (the military and the unions) can talk to one another.”
As the DFSC has seen more than 20 000 soldiers “face to face”, van Harte feels that they “have a very good feeling for where (SANDF members) hurt.”
“We just recently returned from the DRC and so we have our fingers on the pulse around the issues,” van Harte said. “This office gives us easier access to Parliament, to decision makers, building relationships.”
Although the DFSC Wingfield office has been operational from 1 September 2016, it was never officially opened. It will take care of much of the work of the Commission’s mandate of looking into the Conditions of Service of the SANDF members in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape with the main office in Pretoria working with the other provinces.