Newsmaker: TT’s the man for the job

2012-05-19 15:51

It appears some unhappy soldiers couldn’t wait for Lieutenant General Themba Templeton Matanzima’s appointment as the country’s first military ombudsman.

The man, called “TT” by his friends, had seven complaints on his desk just three days after he was appointed.

Thirty-five years after joining the military in the former Transkei, Matanzima swapped his military position to head a civilian structure, the final appeals body for the military’s internal grievances.

“I’m very proud to be the first appointee in this position. I’m glad the president has confidence in me,” he told City Press on Thursday.

During his seven-year, non-renewable term, Matanzima will deal with unhappy soldiers and find recourse where they are wronged.

Despite unhappiness from the South African National Defence Union about his appointment, Matanzima said he’s up for the job.

“At some point I was a young soldier myself who rose through the ranks to this point. I was once a human resources manager and I came up with policies that favour soldiers,” he said.

He has also held the positions of chief of corporate staff, chief of army personnel, chief of human resources and chief of joint operations.

Before the introduction of the ombudsman’s office, Matanzima said, soldiers frustrated by internal grievance procedures resorted to writing to Parliament, to the media and to President Jacob Zuma in his capacity as commander-in-chief.

But he will not replace military command and will deal with complaints only once proper channels have failed.

A married father of five, Matanzima credited support from a “very understanding family” for his success.

“Not only my wife and children – the broader Matanzima family is very supportive.”

A prince of the AbaThembu, Matanzima counts former president Nelson Mandela as an uncle and salutes Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, chief of the Mvezo traditional council, as his chief.

His elder brother, Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, is the chairperson of the Eastern Cape’s House of Traditional Leaders.

Matanzima was trained in the Transkei Defence Force and received additional training in Ghana and the United Kingdom at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

People must not fear his office, he said. He’s adamant that discipline must be one of the most important characteristics of any soldier.

“If a soldier does a wrong thing we charge him, just like with the judges. When Judge (Nkola) Motata did something wrong he was charged and taken through the courts,” Matanzima said.

Motata was convicted of drunk driving in 2009.

Matanzima’s former Jongilizwe High School schoolmate and later general of the Transkei Defence
Force Bantu Holomisa described him as reliable and hard working – and the right man for the job.

“Structures of the defence force should have confidence in him. Their complaints won’t just be dismissed willy-nilly,” said the leader of the United Democratic Movement.

Another colleague, SA navy chief Vice-Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, described Matanzima as always demonstrating “commitment to principle”.

The ombudsman’s office will have between 60 and 100 staff. To ensure independence, it will have its own offices in Pretoria.

Although he prefers to receive complaints in writing, Matanzima’s door is open for those who wish to walk in.

He also needs to hire staff, and interested soldiers can apply – but they’ll have to be prepared to take off their uniforms.

“Just like me,” he said.

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