A two week pilot for Defence and Military Veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s national service scheme will no longer take place this month but likely next month instead. Afrikaner lobby group AfriForum earlier today withdrew an application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to interdict the special session at the South African Navy’s basic training depot at Saldanha.
Her office says AfriForum applied for an urgent interdict “to review the decision of the minister to send leaders of various youth organisations for a two weeks special programme to experience the curriculum and the activities of the soon to be introduced national service announced during the budget vote speech on May 4.”
Afriforum last week Wednesday said they were concerned that the training for “nominees of political parties” contravened Section 199(7)(b) of the Constitution that states that “neither the security forces, nor their members shall further any interest of a political party”.
“Minister Sisulu and representatives of the ANCYL [African National Congress Youth League] and the YCL [Young Communist League] announced plans to hold military training camps for youth members in May 2010, shortly after a controversial courtesy visit by ANCYL President Julius Malema to Zimbabwe in April 2010,” AfriForum attorney Willie Spies said in a statement.
“After a public outcry, the minister issued a statement saying that the training camps were open to all political parties, but representatives of the three main opposition parties already confirmed to AfriForum that their parties’ youth structures have not received any formal invitation from the defence department”, Spies added.
“It is critical that we should not repeat the mistakes of our northern neighbours in South Africa. There was good reason for the drafters of the Constitution to specifically prohibit political partisanship in the National Defence Force. In Zimbabwe, youth members of Zanu-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front] trained in militia camps established by the Zimbabwean army became a feared force of violence and intimidation during election times. We should avoid such a situation to develop in South Africa at all costs”, Spies said.
The next day Sisulu’s Democratic Alliance shadow, David Maynier, added that greater clarity was needed on the scheme. Sisulu in July said voluntary national service for the youth would be limited to a period of six months or a year and would focus on young people aged 18 to 24. They would be paid a stipend – not a salary – during their time of service, perhaps funded by Sector Education Training Authorities, because the defence department cannot afford the expense.
Sisulu said given the fact that some five million young South Africans did not have work, the length of service would have to be relatively short. “We are hoping it will be restricted to one year. With up to five million young people unemployed we cannot prolong it. Maybe six months.”
In May Sisulu said the programme was “expected to help the youth to contribute to national interest, both personally and professionally. The programme should, of necessity, cover a number of aspects not least the provision of technical life skills, including entrepreneurial skills. Emphasis will be placed on helping the youth to make sound career choices and enhance those skills required to make them undeniable assets to a broad range of employers.”
Sisulu in July added a number of other government departments and entities were keen on the idea, including the Human Sciences Research Council and the departments of education, co-operative governance, land reform and rural development. “We have put in place two task teams that will report to me and I will report to Cabinet,” she told reporters in Cape Town. “We have eminent scholars discussing a policy framework on one of the teams”, she added according to the South African Press Association. The second team is dealing with the technical and administrative aspects of introducing national service.
Maynier last Thursday said an official said the youths could be part of a “National Rural Youth Service Corps being established by the Rural Development and Land Affairs department. He also warned the defence force “may never be used to further, in a partisan manner, any interests of a political party. … The minister is playing with political fire and should not allow her political ambition and close relationship with the ANCYL to impair her political judgment and risks politicising the defence force.”
Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya says some 600 youth leaders will take part in the pilot. He this evening said representatives from a range of political and religious youth movements had already accepted. At between three and four delegates per organisation, this implied representatives from between 150 and 200 organisation. Mabaya could not immediately say who had accepted. He added the scheme would focus on physical fitness, discipline and personal branding. At the end a qualification recognised by higher education institutions would be awarded.
Pic: Naval recruits undr training at SAS Saldanha, February 2010