Feature: Works Formation is the military’s handyman


The Defence Works Formation is an element of the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Logistics Division with its origins in what used to be the Works Regiment of the old SA Defence Force.

This regiment could almost be termed the military handyman when it came to keeping infrastructure and buildings in good working order. With the advent of democracy it and the often unseen, but always appreciated, work it did was absorbed into the Department of Public Works. Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, former Public Works Minister, once said her Ministry and Department were the “landlords of government”. She also, after visiting some rundown military bases, famously said the Department of Defence was “not a happy customer of her department”.

Unhappiness about the lack of service from Public Works meant South Africa’s soldiers (in the broadest sense of the word) were having to put up with sub-standard base facilities. One of those unhappy soldiers happened to be the then Chief of the Army, now SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke. He issued instructions for the re-establishment of the Works Regiment.

Since those instructions, several projects have been implemented, including the building of a military hospice at Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, and an extensive refurbishment of a military mess in Thaba Tshwane.

The initial success of the regiment saw thinking widen and what is now the Defence Works Formation officially came into being in April 2011. At that time acting SANDF Chief Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima said the Formation would be utilised in facility maintenance, repairs and construction.
“This requires architects, civil engineers, estate managers, quantity surveyors, artisans, including electricians, carpenters, bricklayers, mechanics, wall and floor tilers as well as environmental managers, occupational health and safety managers and all the military command and management skills inherent in the military fraternity,” the man who is now the Military Ombudsman said at the official launch of the Formation.

Just on a year later the Formation unveiled its new flag and emblem along with regional Works Units in all nine provinces. These all have flag designs associated with their respective provinces. As example, the Eastern Cape unit’s flag features an elephant, Northern Cape the Kimberly diamond, North West a mealie, Limpopo a baobab tree, Mpumalanga a kudu, Western Cape grapes, Free State a cheetah paw print and Gauteng a bee.

The Formation’s headquarters unit has crossed swords at the apex of its emblem putting it in line with all SANDF formation headquarters.

The central elements of the Works Formation flag reflect its functions. The spade for earthworks and construction; the pickaxe was inspired by the dolabra of the ancient Roman legions, used not only to dig but also to fell trees and shape timber for camp construction and fortification; the trowel represents building work and the lightning flash electrical work.

This year the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) in the national budget make specific mention of the Works Formation. It has been allocated just on R962 million by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to operationalise its staff. It is not an additional allocation from National Treasury but a transfer of funds from the office accommodation sub-section of the administration programme to the Department of Defence (DoD) general support programme.

As it currently stands the Formation has three directorates – works operations, works skills development and works staff support – all headquartered in Pretoria and under the command of Major General Mogoruti Joseph Ledwaba. He is also GOC of the Formation’s headquarters unit, the Works Training School in Atteridgeville and the nine regional units. Ledwaba’s right hand man is Chief Warrant Officer Stephanus Esia Terblans, according to DoD head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini.

The Formation is also in the process of establishing a dedicated construction unit, he added.
defenceWeb requested, but was not given, information on work currently being done by the Formation and its units as well as personnel numbers.

This financial year’s ENEs indicate the Works Formation will be responsible for refurbishment of military bases at Bethlehem, Bloemspruit, Eerste Rivier and Grahamstown as well as refurbishment of air force and army headquarters in Pretoria.

Also on the to-do list for the works formation is demolishing unserviceable infrastructure in Thaba Tshwane, at a projected cost of R18.3 million, and at the Military Academy in Saldanha.