Reservists say defence force has deserted them

“We are suffering and struggling to support our families”

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South African Defence Force members join New York Army National Guard Soldiers at the South African Reserve Force Council Military Skills Competition at Potchefstroom Military Base. Archive photo: US Army Africa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Over 1,600 people have signed a South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) Reserve members’ online petition. Reservists also submitted a memorandum to Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in March.

The memo complains that standard operating procedures for reservists are not followed; that there is a lack of deployment of reservists, and that the reserve force budget is reduced every year, making it less likely for reservists to be deployed. They also want first preference when there are deployment opportunities.

According to the memo, the Defence Force recruits and trains youth in skills that can only be utilised within the Department of Defence (DoD), but then absorbs “less than half” the members it recruited.

“We wear the same uniform and we did the same training, yet we are being discriminated against by the same system that rejected us because of their own mistake of over-recruiting,” reads the memo.

Lindokuhle Khanyi joined the Defence Force in 2012. She said she completed two years of training before being placed in the reserves. Khanyi said she has been “sitting at home jobless” for the past four months. Her last call-up, for three months to Kimberly, ended in November.

Khanyi said that because so few members get absorbed into the regular Defence Force, corruption is rife.

“One of our senior members of the army was arrested by the Hawks for selling call-ups to reserve soldiers for R3,000 or sometimes even R10,000. If you don’t have money to pay for the call-up, you can sit at home for over two years”, said Khanyi.

The memo claims that the criteria on which a select few members of the reserves receive long, continuous contracts is unclear.

Khanyi said she was not told at the start of the two-year training that there was a possibility of being “unemployed”.

Another reservist, Goodness Sifunda, has not been deployed since 2014. She said her son dropped out of school after grade 11 because she could not afford the fees.

“We have families and lives but they [DoD] treat us like we are not soldiers who serve the country. It’s so painful,” said Sifunda.

Khanyi said, “When we are not on call-up [deployed] as reserve members we don’t get a salary, so we are basically unemployed with no money to support our families. We just have to sit around and wait for a call-up which might never come.”

“We can’t even apply for SASSA [South Africa Social Security Agency] grants, and it is difficult to find other jobs because when you put our ID numbers into the system, it says we are employed by the SANDF,” said Khanyi.

Khanyi said the reservists would like the Defence Force to stop recruiting new members every year when there were trained reservists sitting at home awaiting deployment.

The reservists are demanding a 15-day rotation system, working 15 days each month, totalling 180 days a year. For members who are not being deployed, the reservists want a R7,500 per month stipend.

They also want reservists to have access to military medical facilities and to get medical aid, state funerals and pensions.

Sifunda said the reservists had tried to lay complaints with Defence Intelligence and the Military Police in November last year, but nothing had come of it. She said they also tried to engage the Minister on the issues after the SANDF ignored their complaints, but she did not respond.

“She [Mapisa-Nqakula] doesn’t care about us because she still gets paid every month while we are suffering and struggling to support our families”, said Sifunda.

In a press statement in January the DoD said it had taken measures and instituted a board of inquiry in August 2017 to address the complaints and the allegations of corruption made by Reserve Force members.

The Minister has not yet responded to GroundUp’s questions that were sent to her on Thursday.

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TOPICS:  Labour Unemployment

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