Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula this week put the military’s contribution to rural development back on the map when she signed an MOU with the North West provincial government in Mafikeng.
Speaking at the signing she said it heralded a function that redefined the role of the South African military and its “inherent potential to support development through peacetime activities”.
The SA National Defence Force’s involvement in rural development goes back at least three years to when a pilot project was started in and around Potchefstroom in North West with a view to providing certain goods and services to the sizable military contingent there. This included fresh vegetables for use in military base kitchens and assistance in skilling local people as mechanics to assist with maintenance of military vehicles, including cars and trucks.
The pilot was put on hold as a result of national and provincial elections in 2014.
The memorandum of understanding signed by North West premier Supra Mahomapelo and Mapisa-Nqakula effectively restarts the SANDF/rural development initiative launched during previous Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s tenure.
She told those present the launch (of the pilot rural development project) “marks the culmination of a process of engagement” between the provincial government and the Department of Defence to “forge a partnership to advance the national strategic imperative of rural development”.
The MOU commits the SANDF to a multi-facetted programme to develop rural areas in the province and will also see the involvement of the North West University and the North West Co-operative.
Mapisa-Nqakula did not elaborate on specifics of the initiative but pointed out that rural development included agriculture, livestock, infrastructural development, health, sanitation, energy and education.
A multi-disciplinary approach would be followed to develop rural areas and raise living standards, “by no means a small task,” according to her, which will need collaboration in a coherent and structured manner.
“I have approved a concept whereby the defence force will use the presence of its units throughout the country; its ownership of land and the assets and resources at its disposal to stimulate local economic activity. There is a conscious intent to focus on rural areas where the need is greatest,” she said, adding a five point decision brief had been signed by SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke in this regard.
The brief makes provision for rural development not to be restricted to the agricultural sector but also to include the industrial and service sectors with an emphasis on youth, military veterans and women; it should be linked to government’s infrastructure development programme; the initiative will be led by a project director; the SA Army will be the lead service in implementation in North West with a subsequent roll-out to other provinces.
The Minister sees the presence of military units in rural communities as “potentially beneficial” in, among others, generating job opportunities, increasing business activity, a source of labour for development projects and provision of training and skills.
From a military point of view local communities can provide Reserve Force members and see use of “under-utilised SANDF land to support specific projects”.
She also warned the MOU should not “gather dust” in offices.
“It should be a living document that drives our work and commits us to concrete results that create material conditions for the upliftment of people in rural areas,” she said.