Military disciplinary system faces reform

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The current military disciplinary system, which entered into force in 1999, has not served its intended purpose, the current consultative draft of the 2012 Defence Review says.

[It] “has conversely served to weaken military discipline and undermine the power of commanders,” the document reads.
“The current system of criminal justice is based mainly on the Military Discipline Supplementary Measures (Act 16 of 1999) as read with its Rules of Procedure and the Military Discipline Code (MDC). The current system has specifically disempowered commanders by removing the summary discipline system and away from the commander to the military courts. This has consequently elevated minor offences to the realm of the military courts and resulted in significant backlogs in the military court system.”

The review explains an effective soldier “is proud, tough, disciplined and displays morale, cohesion, trust, shared soldiering values and high standards of military conduct at all times. Soldiers, in joining the military, agree to accept the lawful direction of those placed in authority over them.”

It reminds soldiers to train for the application of lethal force under conditions of conflict and in so doing accept the risk of death or serious injury in the execution of orders. Military discipline is therefore that “mental attitude and state of training which renders military obedience instinctive under all conditions and, if necessary, for soldiers to engage in armed conflict to defend and protect South Africa and its people – even to the forfeiture of one’s own life. It is this function that distinguishes military service from all other sections of our society.”

Military Discipline is the cornerstone of a professional and functional defence force, which is founded upon respect for, and the loyalty to, properly constituted authority. It is achieved through rigorous training that develops self control, character and efficiency. Such training implies subjection to control exerted for the good of the group, the review adds.

Repeating Constitutional Court judge Johan Kriegler, the review quotes him saying the “ultimate objective of the military in time of peace is to prepare for war to support the policies of the civil government. Military organisation requires, as no other system, the highest standard of discipline [which] can be defined as an attitude of respect for authority that is developed by leadership, precept and training. It is a state of mind which leads to a willingness to obey an order no matter how unpleasant the task to be performed. This is not the characteristic of the civilian community. It is the ultimate characteristic of the military organisation. It is the responsibility of those who command to instil discipline in those who they command. In doing so there must be the correction and the punishment of individuals.”

The review continues that the “effectiveness of a military organisation is inextricably linked to the concepts of command, leadership and discipline. In essence, military discipline is that state of good military order which exists in a military command. A lack of discipline compromises the effectiveness of the Defence Force and renders it unable to perform its constitutional mandate of defending and protecting South Africa and its people. It is this good order that allows all members of a military command to act together as a cohesive fighting force.”

In December 2010 President Jacob Zuma said that military discipline is a non-negotiable in the South African National Defence Force as military personnel are not ordinary civil servants. When speaking to serving soldiers and veterans at a Day of Reconciliation event in Pretoria, Zuma said the government and the people of South Africa “are proud of our soldiers who through their dedication, loyalty, discipline and professionalism when deployed externally, have successfully promoted the image of our country to the international community.”
“Our men and women in arms have never disappointed when called upon to discharge their duties at home in among others, saving lives of our citizens and protecting property. Members of the SANDF have always executed government ordered commitments with distinction – without doubt proving that they are our last line of defence.
“That is why we need absolute loyalty, discipline, commitment, reliability and dependability from our defence force. These are non-negotiables. Anyone who finds these attributes too difficult to adhere to, should not be in the defence force at all,” Zuma said. “We reiterate too, that our soldiers are not ordinary civil servants who are guided by the Public Service Act. Precisely because of this unique situation of our soldiers, they require special attention which we are working on as government.
“We congratulate our soldiers for continuing to display the military discipline and dedication that is required of men and women who have joined this very unique and special service to the nation and beyond our borders too.”