The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) must open itself up to scrutiny to correct sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, says Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
On Monday, she introduced the ministerial task team on sexual exploitation and abuse in the SANDF to the media.
The four-person task team includes chairperson Thoko Mpumlwana as well as retired major generals Daphne Nodola, Britta Rotmann and Mongezi Guma.
Mapisa-Nqakula said she had indicated to the generals and flag officers on November 11 she intended to establish a structure, short of a commission of inquiry, to examine cases of sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment in the SANDF.
"I subsequently took the decision to establish the ministerial task team to investigate the reporting, management and finalisation of cases of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual offences within the SANDF."
She said this was not only for cases of sexual abuse in deployment areas, but also inside the country.
"For some reason, I think the focus that we have had on sexual exploitation and abuse in the deployment areas, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has made us have a blind spot to this scourge internally."
Mapisa-Nqakula added reported cases "paint a worrisome picture".
"There are also seemingly high numbers of incidents and cases that are unreported, given the nature of the military command structure and nature. It was against this background that I established the ministerial task team."
The task team will investigate the reporting, investigation and conclusion of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse cases since 2014. This will include regular SANDF members as well as those belonging to the reserve force.
One of the task team's priorities will be the establishment of a hotline to operate initially for the duration of the team's mandate. This hotline should enable SANDF members to report sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, incidences where such was reported, but not investigated and incidents where members were hesitant to lodge complaints and the reasons why.
It should also allow SANDF members to report on their experiences in engaging the systems put in place to deal with such matters.
The task team should also determine what measures are in place to protect and support victims from the moment a matter is reported, until its finalisation.
It should make recommendations on a legislative, policy and practical level to improve victim support and protection in all matters.
The task team should also explore administrative discharge or removal of the alleged perpetrator from the same environment as the victim.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the task team's term would be three months, but it could be extended. Furthermore, it should report its findings on an ongoing basis, so that immediate changes could be made.
"I do believe that people will be shaken by this. I do believe that this will be a deterrent," Mapisa-Nqakula said.
She added power relations were at play, as it was often juniors who were victimised by their seniors.
"I think it is about time the defence force opens itself up. It's not a security matter. The defence force must open itself up to scrutiny to self-correct."
On November 22, the Mail&Guardian reported a leaked SANDF internal report stated 41 members were charged with sexual-related offences. Of those cases, 26 have been finalised, with 13 guilty verdicts and 11 acquittals.
The rampant sexual assault against women in the SANDF led to a conference at Air Force Base Swartkop in August last year. This led to a report that painted a grim picture of how women were being sexually victimised by their colleagues and commanders, the newspaper said.
According to Mapisa-Nqakula, this report was "not meant for the media" and should not have been leaked as it was for her eyes only.
She also cautioned against fixating on the 41 cases, as there might be many more, adding the task team was not embarking on a legal review of the 41 cases.