Had complaints not been made to the Public Protector by soldiers unhappy with various aspects of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), the Military Ombud might never have become reality.
That it did is partially thanks to previous Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who handed over the reins of office to Busisiwe Mkhwebane earlier this year. The bond established between the two institutions this month saw the Military Ombud, retired lieutenant general Temba Matanzima, meet with the new Public Protector at the Ombud’s office in Centurion.
Earlier this year the relationship between the two was put on a more formal basis when a five year memorandum of understanding was entered into.
Speaking after the meeting Matanzima said: “We do not operate in a vacuum and make a point of communicating with each other to share ideas on best practice. The Office of the Public Protector was instrumental in dealing with soldiers’ complaints before the Military Ombud’s establishment”.
Speaking at the formal swearing in of Matanzima as South Africa’s first military Ombud, in May 2012 then Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu thanked Madonsela for “nudging the process (of establishing the Military Ombud) along”.
The concept of a military ombudsman for the SANDF goes back to the 1998 Defence Review where it was conceptualised but nothing further happened until 2005 when the Portfolio Committee on Defence reviewed the idea. This saw the Military Ombud Bill passed by Parliament in March 2012. The bill makes provision for the establishment of an independent Office of the Military Ombud and the appointment of a military ombudsman.
The Ombud offices were initially in Erasmusrand but moved to EcoPark in Centurion in May 2013.