There are some who may ask why transformation is still an agenda item in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) after 21 years and one answer is to be found in the Armour Formation where ergonomics ensures one size doesn’t fit all.
“It’s not easy to meet the female representative targets prescribed by gender policy,” said Lieutenant Colonel Philip Coetzer, SO1 Reserves of the Army Armour Formation.
“Accommodation of personal safety and convenience for different gender is a challenge. One-piece versus two-piece fire resistant overalls is an example but however creative one would like to be, the safety and survival of personnel is a non-negotiable.
“Physical power of the upper part of the body for handling and carrying equipment and ammunition makes it difficult for smaller or female soldiers, who would rather prefer another military division to the hard and rough armour milieu. This has implications for gender transformation in general,” he pointed out.
Taking the analogy of sport, Coetzer asked whether his formation would rather see “rugby forward types” go to other formations.
“Not necessarily, but at the same time it must be understood that tall female netball players will experience combat vehicles being just as uncomfortable and challenging.”
He sees the pool of suitable candidates for the Armour Formation (Reserve Force) shrinking and maintains it will impact on continued transformation in the Formation.
“The utilisation of women as armoured soldiers in the Reserve Force has to be put into perspective. Almost 40% of the current available number of combat vehicles can presently be fully manned only with women from Armour Reserves. In other words the utilisation of women as drivers, gunners, crew and troop commanders for tanks and Rooikat combat teams is a necessity.”
Overall Coetzer maintains the Reserve component of the Armour Formation, which has been actively working on transformation for the last 10 years, has made progress especially in the management process.
He is adamant one of the major hurdles still to be faced is an improved feed of newcomers to the ranks of the Formation.
“It is virtually impossible to implement racial and/or gender transformation without an improved feeder source of new recruits.”