SA National Defence Force recruits 19,800 part-time soldiers: It’s cheaper to hire contract workers

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Parliamentarians, specifically members of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD), were given a timely reminder of  how cheaper it is for the national defence force to employ part-time soldiers by Defence Reserves’ current ranking officer.

“The Reserves have proven to be cost effective, providing 40 to 50% of the 14 companies for Operation Corona while spending 7.6% of the force employment budget in the SA Army,” SA Air Force (SAAF) Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo, SA Defence Reserves Director, told the JCSD last week.

“The Reserves are making and can continue to make a significant contribution to development of the SANDF and the provision of specialist skills to the SANDF,” she said in a plea headlined “the dignity of the Reserves must be restored”.

As at the end of January this year the Reserve Force employs South Africans numbering 19 811 in total across the four services with the SA Army providing by far more than the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) and SA Navy (SAN).

The 2020/21 year saw 15 037 part-time soldiers called up for duty ranging from border protection (Operation Corona), peacekeeping (Operation Mistral) to Operation Notlela (the national COVID-19 prevention/response effort). With two months left in the current financial year, 13 802 Reserves reported in uniform after call-up.

Project Koba-Tlala, to provide Reserves with skills usable in civilian life, was named by Niyabo as another successful Defence Reserves initiative.

Since it started in the 2017/18 financial year, 1 127 Reserves underwent training in security, community development and liaison, agriculture, water and sanitation, water purification, firefighting, first aid and coding and data science. This allows them gainful employment while not called up – essential for a Reserve Force where call-ups are the only employment many have.

On challenges facing the part-time component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), Niyabo said the reduction in mandays allocated to the Reserve Force would see not all force employment objectives met with limited leader group training and restricted continuation training also impacting on effectiveness.

She told Parliamentarians the lack of a feeder system is resulting in an ageing force with average age continuing to rise. Currently the average age for all Reserves is just under 44.

As to the way forward, the one-star suggests a need to develop four types of Reserves.

These are the conventional as a surge capacity to enhance the regular force; an immediate deployable capacity to supplement the Reserves; Mzanzi Home Guard for rural utilisation and a specialist capability where specialists in a “diverse range of disciplines” can be accessed and used.

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