The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) today hosted its annual Women’s Day Parade at Air Force Base Swartkop, Pretoria. The event was officiated by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who examined the increasingly prominent role of women in the military.
The SANDF said the parade is also a tribute to more than 20 000 women who protested against Pass Laws on 9 August 1956. This year marks the 62nd Anniversary of this historic march. This march was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) that was led by prominent women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahim Moosa and Sophia Williams de Bruyn.
The Resolution was taken by the then Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in 2011 that the celebration of the 1956 march should be honoured within the SANDF, by means of a parade consisting of women only. This parade is held annually during the month of August on the last Friday of the month.
“We have done well, but need to do much more to ensure that our armed forces are fully representative of the men and women of our country and reflect the demographics. Of course this has also included the increased number of women deployed in all areas within our defence force, including peace support missions and in all of the services and divisions of the SANDF,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
She singled out a number of women in uniform who have distinguished themselves, including:
• Col Zoleka Niyabo from the South African Air Force was selected as the first female officer to do the Masters in Strategy programme in the United States of America, equivalent of our Security and Defence Study Programme. She excelled to graduate top of her class by obtaining an A symbol in Strategy which is the main module. She became the first African Officer to obtain this symbol in Strategy and she was the only female officer out of 43 international officers to attend this course.
• Maj Pearl Block received the United Nations Military Gender Advocacy Award in November 2017 in Vancouver, Canada for promoting the principles within the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a peacekeeper and being an outstanding Gender Advocate under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) over the period July 2016 to July 2017. She was honoured by the UN for her game-changing mission-wide short message service launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to encourage armed groups in that country to surrender and also encourage women and children to freely report gender based violence.
• Lt Col Tiisetso Sekgobela was appointed as Officer Commanding of 7 SA Infantry Battalion and is currently deployed with her battalion to the DRC.
• Lt Col Phumzile Shingange appointed as first woman to command 1 SA Tank Regiment 2017.
• Lt Cdr Elizabeth Yssel was the first woman to qualify as Marine Engineering Officer. It was a historical moment when she was deployed during Exercise Ketana.
Mapisa-Nqakula made mention of sexual exploitation and abuse as well as harassment in the SANDF and warned that this would not be tolerated.
“Women and men in Defence must join hands in the fight against sexual harassment; sexual exploitation and abuse and gender-based violence…Externally, the SANDF had suffered reputational damage as a result of negative reporting and in particular by the United Nations on sexual exploitation and abuse incidents allegedly committed by deployed members. Internally, we made headlines when two MSDS soldiers allegedly raped a fellow student on course.
“I emphasize that Sexual Exploitation and Abuse constitutes serious misconduct. The United Nations expects that all peacekeeping personnel shall adhere to the highest standards of behaviour, and conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner at all times, therefore you will respect local laws, customs and practices; treat host country inhabitants with respect; and act with impartiality, integrity and tact.”
Mapisa-Nqakula noted that there are an increasing number of women in the DOD who are becoming actively involved in promoting peace and security. “As a troop-contributing country, we are proud to state that the South African National Defence Force deploys the largest group of female soldiers during peace missions in Africa. This is a great achievement. Not only do we deploy women externally, they also form part of the vital role our soldiers play during border missions within South Africa.”
The minister said it was a concern that although the Department of Defence reflects a 70/30 ratio in terms of male vs female representation, there has been little gender transformation in Aircrew, Combat Navy, Technical and Technical Air positions.
“In the year 2018 female Chaplains are only 22% and Colonels/Capt. (SAN) only 20% represented. Female Warrant Officers, Class 1 are 19% and Warrant Officers Class 2, are 23% represented. Combat Mustering reflects a 22% female representation within the Officers ranks and 20% within the other ranks. Women have achieved a greater level of equality in the military in the past 24 years, however, there is still much progress to be made in approaching the twenty-fifth anniversary of our freedom in 2019.
“To the Women serving our Organization, you are obligated to serve the South African National Defence Force with diligence, pride and honour…Make the South African National Defence Force proud to be associated with you,” Mapisa-Nqakula concluded.