That current SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke, will be presented with a medal to mark 40 years of service later this month might be confusing when it is taken into account that the force he heads up was only established in 1994.
The short version, according to Deon Fourie, Professor of Strategic Studies at Unisa and a member of the Honours Advisory Panel of the SANDF, is in the spirit of reconciliation and nation-building.
He explains: “Despite the view that the SANDF is a new force we (the Honours Advisory Panel) in many ways adopted the various forces and customs of the past. As the ANC and PAC came in less prepared than the rest this meant the former Union Defence Force (UDF), SA Defence Force (SADF) and homeland forces dominated in matters of decorations and medals. For a while, at least, the newcomers were awarded the old decorations and medals”.
“In 1994 at first we went on presenting the President’s decorations and medals for the SADF but president (Nelson) Mandela instituted, as happened in Zimbabwe, decorations and medals for the non-statutory forces, MK and Apla. He wanted to do the logical thing as in Zimbabwe, but the two groups wanted their own and so side by side with the existing honours a set was created each for MK and Apla.
“Later we were told to ‘transform’ and we designed with the President, (Thabo) Mbeki by then, accepting our proposals.
“This meant that to be reasonable and decent to all servicemen/women, length of service was allowed to be recognised as though in one service and it has worked well. South Africa’s former Permanent Force, Citizen Force and Commandos earned the old long service medals but if service was completed later than 2003 the new medals are awarded.
“What it boils down to is that Gen Shoke is earning his medal for both ‘struggle’ and SANDF service.
“The same is and has been applicable to others – on both sides,” he said.