Military ombudsman moves into permanent offices


Virtually a year to the day of his appointment, South Africa’s first military ombudsman, Lieutenant General TT Matanzima and his staff will take up permanent residence in an upmarket Centurion office park.

On May 12 last year he was sworn in by North Gauteng High Court Justice Francis Legodi during a ceremony in the country’s military capital of Thaba Tshwane.

The ombudsman’s first year of operations has been done from temporary accommodation and while complaints have been received and handled, staffing has been the major focus.

When Matanzima and his personnel move into the Eco Fusion office park in Centurion’s Highveld Extension 20 tomorrow, the Ombudsman Office will be fully functional.

The mandate of the military ombudsman is to investigate complaints lodged in writing by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members regarding conditions of service. Non-members can also submit complaints about the SANDF for investigation. If someone is not happy with the Ombudsman’s decision, he or she can take the matter to court.

When he accepted the position Matanzima said he would perform his duties with fear or favour for the next seven years.

He added that he saw his office serving as a force multiplier for the SANDF and not a threat to it.
“It is an office that will empower SANDF members. Its establishment is for the benefit of the defence force and those in its ranks.”

Previous Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was one of the major drivers of the Military Ombud Bill, passed into law in May last year.

At Matanzima’s swearing in, she said the office was a soldiers’ appeal to internal military grievance management procures and would be an essential part of a systematic approach to a democratic rights-based military culture.

She saw it as a method of ensuring South Africa’s armed forces would respect the rule of law, promote transparency and accountability, strengthen confidence in the military, improve the overall quality of life of SANDF members as well as identify problems in the military.

The history of the military ombudsman in South Africa goes back almost 15 years to the 1998 Defence Review. It conceptualised a military ombudsman but the concept was not taken any further until 2005 when the Portfolio Committee on Defence revived it. This led to the Military Ombud Bill which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in May 2011.