First military ombud appointed

2012-05-14 14:50

The military ombud’s office was launched at Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria, today, thereby effectively disempowering trade unions.

The main mandate of the ombud is to resolve soldiers’ problems regarding their conditions of service. Retired soldiers are also covered by the Office of the Military Ombud and members of the public can complain to the Military Ombud about an SANDF member’s professional conduct.

Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima has been inaugurated as the first ombud of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said the Military Ombud is the “soldiers’ appeals office to internal military grievance management procedures” and a place of “final recourse” should civilians feel the military is misbehaving.

Said Sisulu: “Through existence of the Office of the Military Ombud, we hope to harmonise the confluence between military discipline and recourse avenues for complaints and grievances appeals in a manner that is consistent with our democratic enlightenment.”

Though plans have been under way since the mid-1990s to rethink the country’s decision to allow trade unions to operate within the defence force, it was the soldiers’ August 2009 march to the Union Buildings that finally got government to fast-track the process. All political parties represented in Parliament slammed the violent protest as an act of mutiny.

Sisulu made it clear she wanted to see the ombud increase the levels of satisfaction among members of the defence force in relation to their complaints, jokingly reminding Matanzima of the embarrassment of the Union Building march.

“Should I find any soldier on the lawns of the Union Buildings we’ll renegotiate your post,” she said.

Matanzima thanked his colleagues for the “trust and faith in my ability” that saw him being appointed as the country’s first Military Ombud.

“I hope to leave structures in place by the end of my term that will make this office successful,” he said.

“Just like I’ve done when serving the defence force, I’ll serve my country to the best of my ability.”

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who was a guest speaker at the inauguration, congratulated Sisulu for introducing “something that has never been done in this country”.

Madonsela urged the newly-appointed military ombud not to hesitate to make objective decisions against the SANDF, Sapa reports.

“Being a member of the family ... do not treat the defence community as a mafia,” she said.

“In the mafia if you are a member of the family. You do not make decisions against family. Family is always right in the mafia,” she said.

The Military Ombud will serve a seven-year non-renewable term.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, himself a retired military general who served with Matanzima at the former homeland Transkei Defence Force, supports the decision to introduce the Military Ombud. “The unions have been complaining that they are not being heard. The Ombud will listen to all structures of the defence force,” said Holomisa. “Structure of the defence force will have confidence that their complaints will not just be dismissed without the required attention. This is part of running the defence force in a transparent way.”

Complainants can take the ombud’s decisions to the courts if they’re not satisfied.

Matanzima was chief of joint operations at the SANDF.

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