Military ombud offices opened


Deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla today officially opened the military ombudsman’s offices, a year after the South African National Defence Force’s first ombudsman was appointed.

“Today marks a remarkable moment in the history of our Defence Force, with the opening of the home of the Military Ombud,” said Makwetla, on behalf of Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who is currently in Russia on a state visit.

On May 12 last year Lieutenant General TT Matanzima was sworn in as the first military ombudsman by North Gauteng High Court Justice Francis Legodi during a ceremony in the country’s military capital of Thaba Tshwane.
“In our efforts to improve the conditions of service of our soldiers and to streamline processes regarding grievance procedures within the South African National Defence Force, we came to a conclusion that the office of the Military Ombud would meet our objectives. The absence of a Military Ombud in our Military has invariable disadvantaged our soldiers,” Makwetla said.
“Through the existence of the office of the Military Ombud, we hope to harmonise the confluence between Military discipline and recourse avenues for complaints and grievances in a manner that is consistent with our democratic establishment.
“The Military Ombud is a soldiers’ appeal office to internal military grievance management processes. It is therefore an essential ingredient in the pursuit of a systematic approach to a democratic rights-based military culture. I wish to emphasise that it is a carefully considered extension of well-established conventional frontiers of military culture in a democracy, consistent with contemporary demands for due process.”

The concept of a Military Ombud was first proposed in the first White Paper on Defence post 1994. It was envisioned that it would serve soldiers and allow the public to lodge complaints about SANDF members.

In May 2005, a Bill entitled “South African Military Ombud” was produced by the Portfolio Committee on Defence but never tabled in Parliament. This Bill, Makwetla explained, sought to address victimisation, raise awareness of grievance procedures, and enforce compliance with grievance procedures. It led to the Military Ombud Bill which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in May 2011.
“The office of the Military Ombud will investigate and ensure that complaints are resolved in a fair, economic and expeditious manner,” Makwetla said. “It is our belief that this office will add a lot of value as a last recourse for complaints and grievance management within the military establishment.”

He added that it would enjoy independence from the Military Command structures and promote high moral amongst troops.
“The patriotic inclination to head the call to participate in the defence of one’s country- to defend our democratic values- is a courageous act. It is therefore our moral obligation as a nation to treat with dignity all those citizens who give their lives to the lofty cause of defending our democracy,” the deputy minister said.
“It is equally important to emphasise that the office of the Military Ombud will not attend to matters that are strictly under the purview of the Military Command- these are matters of principle such as leadership in the military.
“The Office of the Military Ombud will compliment, rather than compete with existing internal redress procedures with the South African National Defence Force,” Makwetla said. He concluded by saying that, “through this office our soldiers are guaranteed humane treatment and quality of life which all our citizens deserve as an inalienable right bequeathed to them by our constitution.”