Instead of this year marking 40 years of environmental awareness in the South African military, there will not be any Department of Defence (DoD) environment awards this year.
Enquiries to the SA National Defence Force’s Logistics Division via the Directorate: Corporate Communications since mid-September remain unanswered. defenceWeb has been informed by an impeccable source “time and other obligations caught up with Logistics Division at DoD level to the extent no awards ceremony will take place this year”.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and its predecessor, the SA Defence Force (SADF) have been involved in environmental issues since 1977, “albeit on an informal basis” according to then SADF Environmental Services. This led to the first military policy document on nature conservation followed by a more comprehensive policy and procedure document in 1981. In 1992, a long term strategy for Environmental Services in the then SADF was formulated and accepted by military top management as well as the Deputy Minister of Defence. Over the ensuing years the “nature conservation function”, as it was then known, developed to include a wide range of sub-functions including ecological management of training areas, base environmental management, cultural resource management, environmental research as well as education, awareness and training.
Environmental Services was accepted as an official function of the DoD in direct support of the military mission two years before democracy.
The various categories of environmental awareness developed and brought home to the military, from senior command down to unit level, was “sold” to the wider South African environmental community. This saw sponsors join hands with the defence force to further promote environmental awareness in all four services. Sponsors included the National Parks Board (forerunner of SANParks, today the national conservation agency); leading environmental non-government organisation, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT); the City of Durban (today the eThekwini Metro) and companies manufacturing and marketing environmental products and services such as domestic and industrial water saving devices.
Over the years military integrated environmental management (MIEM) grew to encompass the natural, physical and cultural land and properties (software) in which the fixed assets such as buildings and associated services (hardware) are spatially located. MIEM in defence is summed up as the management of land and the natural environment in an integrated way to promote the success of the core processes of defence, and management of the physical impact of military activities on the environment in which they are executed.
This wide definition saw winners and runners-up named in categories as diverse as water and power saving, prevention of damage to aircraft and other military assets as well as management of wildlife in conjunction with military operations.
Among the better known winners were the air force bases at Hoedspruit and Makhado where cheetah were introduced to manage warthog populations. This because the warthogs were a danger to both aircraft and pilots. Another air force base that regularly earned environmental “honours” was AFB Overberg in Southern Cape. AFB Langebaanweg took honours for water saving on a number of occasions while other winners were Naval Base Simon’s Town, the Combat Training Centre (CTC) in Northern Cape and infantry battalions across the country.