Mixed Race Recruitment In The SANDF, An All Time Low

According to the SA Institute of Race Relations the Department of Defence’s latest employment equity targets are changing. Black employment has dropped to 65% from 72%, Coloured employment is down to 10% from 13%, Indian employment remains at one percent and the target for whites increases from 14 to 24%.

On 31 March 2019, the demographics of service personnel were as follows: 55,866 (75%) Black. 8,479 (11.4%) White. 981 (1.3%)  Coloureds.

Racial representation in the defence force has changed so dramatically that almost all privates are black and the military is having difficulty recruiting young people from minority groups. This means in its lower ranks, the South African National Defence Force has been transformed since 1994 from a white-dominated to a black-dominated organisation.

The Cape Coloured Corps was first mobilised during the Great War as a combatant unit and was exclusively recruited from South Africa’s Coloured community. Coloured soldiers had a long-standing tradition of military service in the Empire. They were enlisted by the British during the frontier wars, the South African War, and, finally, the Great War. They were later recruited by the Dominion and Apartheid governments in the Second World War and the Border Wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Despite this legacy, their service to the State often went unnoticed in the public space. The right to military service was considered synonymous with a man’s right to citizenship. A privilege that non-White communities were conveniently excluded from. Despite this discrimination, an alternate dialogue emerged from military associations that sought to recognise and honour the sacrifices of the men of Cape Corps.

Kairos News recently reached out to Colonel B.L. Eckersley, a retired officer, to enquire as to why Coloured recruitment into the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) is at an all time low, post 1994.

                                                  Colonel B.L. Eckersley

This was his response:

“The requisites  required  for conscription into the SANDF alone,  slowed the growth and path of reaching  higher ranks due to the age gap.  Whites were selected already just after basic training, meaning; some had just finished school and  were conscripted during the apartheid years whereas, we were given the opportunity in later years of our careers. I was in  the second group who did officer training at the age of thirty and your selection was done in Pretoria. You were then notified through the normal Defence communication channels whether you were successful or not, so it was not a given that you became an officer. Your next hurdle would be  the actual officer training that would be done in Heidelberg Transvaal at that time..

What one must bear in mind that this was after 1994 the concept of transformation was introduced into the DOD (Department Of Defence) like in the rest of the country. The ratio of 64% black, 24% white, 12% coloured and 1% Asian was the norm. This spoke to rank and many other aspects of the military career of the Coloureds, posts and courses were based on that criteria. If you were not course qualified or occupied a post to be promoted you did not get there or were not considered. 

Then came  the introduction of the MSDS (Military Skills Development System) which concentrated on the mass recruitment of blacks with minimum Coloureds being accepted in the military. Whites were simply happy that conscription had fallen away, they also did not see the military as a career, although some were recruited but not in large numbers. Blacks were recruited in large numbers because this was seen to be a way of an income and not a calling to defend your motherland. Corruption has become the order of the day. Senior officers within the military would make sure that it became a family business. The current Minister of Defence is also a culprit in this regard so are many other senior officers. As a typical example with the recent senior promotions of Brig Gen to Major Gen, only one coloured member was promoted to rank of Rear Admiral. The question could be asked; what about the other Coloured Brig Gens that could have been promoted? There were 24 appointments, Black 19, White 4 and 1 Coloured no Asian appointment.

The current threshold for the yearly intake of MSDS (Military Skills Development System) recruits is based on 1500 but also the DOD must have the necessary budget to accommodate this number.

The MSDS is a two year programme with the option of being offered a contract for 5 yrs, and then every five years; if not required anymore the contract is not renewed. This in itself is problematic because once again the whole selection process is flawed in terms of contract selection. The Black grouping is seen above the rest, i.e White, Coloured and Asian members with regards to contracts, courses, posts and rank. A good example is; my son joined on his own in 2006 with no influence from me being in the system at that time for more than 27 years. All his counterparts are Non Commissioned Officers and Officers. He only became a Lance Corporal last year after 13 years as a private although he had been qualified for years. 

Should one consider then 1500 threshold the greater number of  just over 900 would be black members and then remainder split between white, coloured and Asian.

The Chief Directorate Transformation Management which is also responsible for recruitment are very selective in their recruitment drive, they do not or seldom target coloured schools in the remote areas for example in the remote areas of the Northern Cape.

All these factors have a negative impact on the ground where coloured soldiers are in the minority.

Armed with this information, one wonders what the future holds for other race groups in the SANDF (South African National Defense Force)

By: Lorraine Richards

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *