But much remains to be done and it “will require clear focus on competence, discipline and integrity,” Sisulu told journalists, without explicitly mentioning last August’s mutinous riot over service conditions outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, arguably the lowest moment in the SANDF’s 16 year history.
“We will pay attention to issues of transformation. The armed forces of any country must broadly reflect the make-up of the population if they wish to enjoy the respect and support of their nation. “But as some defence experts have correctly pointed out that ‘the battlefield, the laws of aerodynamics and the sea are all three equal-opportunity killers: They care not whether you are white, black, male or female. Either you are competent or you die – or, if you are a senior officer, others die.’
“Training, competence, and excellence are the pillars that guide our business. Soldiers, for their part, deserve competent and honest officers to lead them: That is all they ask – competence and integrity. To give them less is immoral. We expect them to risk their lives; we owe them the best leadership we can provide,” Sisulu said in the Imbizo Room in Parliament.
To this end, she continues, her department is engaged in addressing some of the critical issues that relate to personnel, including salaries, in order to address:
– The massive drain of pilots and technical personnel;
– The impending retirement of many highly experienced senior officers, whose replacements may lack operational and service experience;
– The difficulty in recruiting enough people of the right calibre to meet future requirements, which will become more serious as the economy develops; and
– The difficult to maintaining and rejuvenating the reserves.
Sisulu says the most critical issue “that we are focussing on is education. As everyone knows, the progress of any nation can be no swifter than its progress in education. In a country bedeviled by unemployment and skills shortages, we have massive skills training capabilities and have tested this through our Military Skills Training Programme.
“We want to expand this programme to cater to private sector industries and government departments. We are investigating how to harness the skills training programme to generate additional revenue for the Defence Force, developing a concept of opening the programme to other government departments and the private sector. We are looking at various ways in which certain responsibilities can be self-sustained. As we have stated before, the demand for a well trained, multi-skilled, disciplined and well-equipped defence force as a critical lever of the developmental agenda of Government is a reality that cannot be left to chance,” Sisulu says.
“I am pleased that business and the private sectors have woken up to value that military training provides. The days in which military veterans were met with apprehension and suspicion are waning. In the United States, the military has become the new face of leadership. According to the April Fortune Magazine, leading companies look to the military to recruit leaders. In hiring junior officers, Wal-Mart, one the largest retail stores discovered that it had struck human resources gold.
“This follows closely on a two studies by Harvard and MIT economists Efraim Benmelech and Carola Frydman and a 2006 project completed by the executive search firm Korn/Ferry,” Sisulu says. The study identified the following as key attributes that distinguishes military veterans from their civilian counterparts:
– Leadership grounded in real world experience.
– CEOs who have chosen to hire those with military experience admire the “military’s ability to deal with ambiguity, a skill honed by the wars”. They note that to accomplish their missions, leaders in the field had to adapt and improvise, at times making it up as they went along. In war, changing the paradigm has become routine.
– The military teaches puts a premium on an organization’s obligation to fulfill its social contract. It’s not just winning that matters in the business world, it’s how you win.
“Nearly all of the CEOs interviewed in the Korn/Ferry study preferred a military background to an MBA when appointing a young person to lead a department,” Sisulu says.
“We are encouraged by these studies. And we remain committed in ensuring that Defence is part of the Skills Development National Imperatives. We have initiated discussions with relevant stakeholders within the Department. We will soon be establishing a Task Team (inter-ministerial) to look at a broader picture involving skills acquisition and development. In this regard we will pay attention to the initiatives in the department with the sole aim of looking at what has been achieved and not achieved since our commitment,” the minister continues.
“The issue of skills needs a careful attention. It is not simply about putting people into programmes. We need to ensure that the skills provided are those required by the economy. As members know, universities have not gotten it right. They are not producing enough graduates to meet the challenges of our economy. As a result we have a peculiar phenomenon of a high graduate unemployment in the midst of a skills crisis. We will not add to this anomaly hence our cautious approach in dealing with this matter.”
Sisulu says government remains “committed to building and fostering a new Defence Force; a Defence Force that can thrive and grow to ensure that we can protect our hard won democracy; a dispensation where the State can invest in the development of the Defence Force and the young people who are drawn into this noble calling; a Defence Force that can recapture and rekindle this spirit of patriotism, selflessness and a love for the people of our country; and above all, a Defence Force whose morale and discipline is equal to the development of our country, one whose dedication will inspire.”