The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has a new, “Ministerial Task Team” (MTT) assigned to investigate all cases of sexual misconduct in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) between 2014 and the present.
The MTT, which was announced by the Minister on 2 December, is set to investigate the reporting, management and finalisation of cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and offences within the SANDF.
“This is not only against the consistent calls I’ve made about the sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the deployment areas but the realisation that the problem is just as prevalent within the South African National Defence Force inside the country, in our bases, in our unions and also in the borders where we do border patrols,” stated Mapisa-Nqakula at a media briefing in Pretoria.
“For some reason, I think that the focus that we have had on sexual exploitation and abuse in the deployment areas, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has made us have a blind spot to the scourge internally. SEA is not confirmed to the SANDF members deployed externally. This is because the preliminary view of reporting sexual harassment, SEA and sexual offenses paint a worrisome picture. There are also seemingly high numbers of incidents and cases that are unreported, given the nature of the military command and control structure.”
The MTT’s chairperson is Nandisile Thoko Mpumlwana, who is the former chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa. Alongside Mpumlwana, the MTT consists of Britta Rotman, a legally trained professional with knowledge in sexual abuse, Dr Mongezi Guma, a public speaker and consultant on human rights, management and organizational development, Major-General Daphne Nodola, brought in to assist and give guidance to the task team on dealing with the military structures as well as Mapisa-Nqakula and Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thabang Makwetla.
In addition to the MTT, members from the Department of Defence, both uniformed and civilian, will constitute a secretariat. There will also be a team of psychologists, social workers and chaplains that will work closely with the MTT.
For SEA cases in areas where the SANDF is deployed externally as well as SEA cases and sexual offences cases committed at basis and units inside South Africa the MTT is set to analyse the legal and procedural frameworks in place; analyse the outcome of matters reported and investigated in an effort to determine the reasons for guilty or not guilty findings; analyse the sentences meted out in guilty findings; determine the average time it takes to finalise matters; analyse the Military Discipline Bill 2019 and determine if there are any factors hindering members to report incidences of sexual harassment or SEA cases against their fellow SANDF members.
Mapisa-Nqakula stated that one of the first tasks of the team is to set up a hotline. The hotline will allow SANDF members to report incidents of sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation or offence cases, report incidents that were reported but no action was taken and indicate if and why members were hesitant lodge to complaints or open cases.
Victim support is a large part of the MTT’s mandate as Mapisa-Nqakula stated, “In executing their mandate, the Task Team must take steps to determine what measures are in place to protect and support victims from the moment a matter is reported until its finalization.” In addition, the Task Team should make recommendations on a legislative, policy and practical level to improve victim support and protection as well as explore administrative discharge and or removal of the alleged perpetrator from the same environment as the victims.
“I think it is about time the defence force opens itself up,” Mapisa-Nqakula said in being asked why she chose an external team for the investigation of sexual-related cases within the SANDF. “It’s just a matter of criminality, power relations, abuse of individuals, it’s a human rights issue, so for me it’s about the SANDF must now open itself up to scrutiny in order to self-correct.”
The minister added that she has absolute confidence in the structures of the SANDF but with regards to handling this particular issue, (cases of sexual abuse, exploitation, harassment and offences) her confidence is, “very limited”.
A Department of Defence document was leaked to a media house in late November, stating 41 sexual-related cases were reported in the last 18 months, with 26 finalised, 13 guilty verdicts and 11 acquittals. The document revealed that Cape Town had the largest number of cases as 17 were reported, 13 were finalised, seven persons were found guilty and six were found not guilty between 2018 and 2019. Following Cape Town was Pretoria with 12 cases reported, six finalised and four SANDF members found guilty.
Mapisa-Nqakula commented on the report, stating that media acquired the report illegally and that it was meant for her to study and gain a sense of how these cases are dealt with. “Let’s not confine ourselves to what is contained here [the report] because we may be talking about 41 cases but actually there may be way more cases.”