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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The SANDF Experience

"Those problems, I can talk about them maybe, till sunset brother, they are quite a lot ..."

It is certainly not news that the South African National Defence Forces's (SANDF) demobilisation and integration processes have been dogged by many problems. While the demobilisation process affected only members of the former non-statutory forces, MK and APLA, a source in itself of considerable dissatisfaction, these grouping have also expressed most dissatisfaction regarding their integration into the SANDF. The latter process has certainly affected all those integrating, but again, it was only former members of the non-statutory forces who were required to undergo selection procedures. Interviewees confirm and expand on the range of problems previously raised in other studies.

The compilation of the Certified Personnel Register (CPR), which listed the names of MK and APLA cadres who could then be considered for integration into the SANDF, has, for a number of reasons, been regarded as problematic. These include the pervasive climate of uncertainty and suspicion at the time of compiling the lists. Some cadres were still coming out of the underground structures and had little information about or trust in the political situation and plans to build a new national defence force. They consequently failed to submit their names. Similarly, people against whom there were outstanding warrants of arrest and criminal investigations feared that registration would expose them. Others, who had already participated in the National Peace Keeping Force, assumed their names would automatically appear on the register. Mistakes and corruption, respondents claim, also led to omissions from the register of people who had submitted their names. Contrary to expectations, not everyone who submitted their names qualified for inclusion on the register. As a result, many were left angry when their names did not appear. 'The situation was complicated by the fact that it was impossible to distinguish whether their names had been omitted by the ANC or by the SADF people involved in the process'.12


Most respondents who had been demobilised were demobilised against their will. They had hoped for positions in the military but failed to meet the entrance requirements for integration. Instead of the expected opportunity for integration, they found themselves unceremoniously cast aside (albeit with some pecuniary compensations). Not surprisingly, the process has generated considerable dissatisfaction.

The difficulties of the overall situation are compounded by perceptions that the demobilisation process was not consistently implemented and was fraught with unproductive procedures, corruption, inefficiency, and abusive behaviour.

Some complaints stem from what many ex-combatants regard as fundamental weaknesses in the process. These include the fact that only non-statutory force members were evaluated as part of the integration process. Specific integration criteria, such as the reported exclusion of underage applicants, are also regarded as problematic.13 In addition, the gratuities paid to those demobilising are considered inadequate.

The most significant criterion for being admitted to the SANDF was passing the tests that were conducted to measure soldiers' potential. A number of respondents express scepticism of the method used to grade these tests, and question the way in which the results were communicated to candidates. From their perspective, the testing process was mismanaged, and fuelled suspicion and dissatisfaction.

In some instances you [would] find that all the group's [test] results had come out [but] ... yours would not come. But the people you wrote with would get their results first. The way it was supposed to happen, the results were supposed to come at the same time. [This] is when I started to have doubts, that okay, why is it happening like this? [MK/SDU]

We were told that we failed. You write but you don't see your results, you are told verbally that you failed the potential test, then [that] you are going to be demobilised - in that manner. [MK/SDU]

You were supposed to see your results and say 'Okay, I made the mistake here and there'... [But] you were told 'You failed, you failed'... You don't see your script and see where you failed. This surprised me ... because of the things that were taking place. You were told that a person who has passed matric has failed the potential test. You take a person who has never been to school and you are told that he has passed [the] potential test ... Whilst I passed standard 8 someone with standard 2 passed [the test] and I am told that I failed, [even] whilst having a certain level of education. [MK/SDU]

An apparent lack of uniform entrance requirements and procedures is also reported. Some respondents who were demobilised say that their files were lost at assembly points. Several feel that they may have been demobilised simply because their files went missing. Furthermore, because some were discovered to be submitting fraudulent school certificates, others were apparently denied the opportunity to submit qualifications at all, thereby reducing their chances for integration. Procedures are alleged to have been inconsistently applied.

There was something concerning school qualifications. Then still on top of that, some of us were never given a chance to surrender those [school qualifications] because it was discovered that there were frauds taking place concerning school qualifications. Some people who brought such things were given a second chance to [submit them] and others were not. [MK/SDU]

Some respondents place the blame for this situation squarely with the SADF representatives, referred to as the 'boers':

It was those criminals from the assembly point. It was the boers not the ANC [that lost our files]. [MK/SDU]

Others implicate their own leaders who, they suggest, no longer have their interests at heart.

Okay, I am not putting all blame on Whites ... because there were also our people from MK and APLA [at the assembly points]. These things, the way I see [it], were made to fail by the individuals amongst our own leadership. They are involved ... because when you are in good things, you forget about the other people. [MK/SDU]

The issue of money remains a focal point for grievances. One respondent claims that he has not been able to receive his demobilisation gratuity because of corruption in the system.

When we tried to find out what happened to those cheques, they said to us [that the] cheques are frauds ... They fraud[ed] those cheques ... Until today I'm a victim ... of my cheque, a R22 000 one. I'm still crying. [MK/SDU]

Several respondents say that they are still awaiting demobilisation payments:

My problem is that we were demobilised but they robbed us of our money. Some of us don't have the monies that we were promised after demobilisation. [MK/SDU]

During the course of the research process, several respondents, having written to the President's Office to express their grievances about payment, were finally paid out their demobilisation gratuities.

The Service Corps

The SANDF's Service Corps was established in January 1995 to assist demobilised soldiers to integrate into civil society by means of skills training, conversion courses and career profiling. The Corps has proven, however, to be an ineffective and controversial programme (Frankel, 2000, p. 205).14

Those respondents who have had experience with the Service Corps highlight several problems. They complain that they were given little choice in the type of training they received, that they were treated as good-for-nothings, and in a racist manner.

When we arrived at Springs, they told us to choose courses. We said we wanted motor mechanic [training]. They said 'No'. They called us 'monkeys' [and] said that monkeys are not suitable for motor mechanic [courses], but are suitable for bricklay[ing] and carpentry courses. [MK/SDU]

Most of these respondents were among the Service Corps' first intakes, for whom the experience is generally considered to have been particularly problematic. This is acknowledged by Service Corps staff themselves. In some cases, the training that was promised was not actually delivered in full or at all. A number of ex-combatants interviewed in KwaZulu-Natal said that they put their names down for courses when they were demobilised, but more than two years later had not heard from the Service Corps.15 Other respondents (from Gauteng) are unhappy about the amount of training they received, which they claim was considerably less than the 18 months they were promised. Respondents tell of being involved in Service Corps programmes for as little as 10 months, and productively involved in training for only six weeks when they had been told courses would continue for three months.

Inadequate communication and the raising of unrealistic expectations of the available Service Corps programmes offer some explanation for the levels of dissatisfaction, particularly with regard to the duration of the courses. An 18-month placement with the Service Corps did not translate into 18 months of training, although respondents suggest that this is what they were led to believe, at least initially. (Several respondents, however, have had the opportunity to receive training at a later stage, in which the Service Corps has played a co-ordinating role.)

They told us that at the Service Corps we would be taught skills and after that they would give us jobs or we would work with countries like China ... We joined the Service Corps and ... they dumped us in camps, giving us food and a place to sleep. We started complaining about being dumped and not doing that 18 months' training. After we complained, they took us to academy schools for 45 days but they [had] said three months. I did a welding course at the academy ... After the course they gave us basic training certificates. They took us back to the camps and we stayed there. After that they told us to help the engineering guys and we used to get R20.00 a day. They dismissed 1 800 people because they noticed that we had a lot of complaints about the 18 months' training they [had] promised us at Waalmansdaal. [MK/SDU]

Grievances have been exacerbated by the fact that, even with training, unemployment remains a reality for many. In the opinion of a Service Corps official, ex-combatants' continued desperation for work colours their perceptions of the quality of the training that was provided.

The problem is that after they got the package and training they found themselves unemployed in the township - bitter and unemployed. But I think justice was done. We [now] also try to help them find jobs, but they are competing with graduates ... It was only a six-week training course so he claims the course was incompetent. That is not true, but three years later, he's still unemployed. [Service Corps official]

One female respondent, who was in the process of training through the Service Corps at the time of the interview, was more positive about the training and the Service Corps generally. Her appreciation, however, appears to be firmly based on her hope that she will be able to find work in the future.

I feel that the Service Corps has helped a lot, especially ... because if I continue with it I may find a job. At least when I am here, I have peace of mind. The R600.00 [allowance] that they are giving us in a month is not enough but you are in a position that you can buy food in the house. In future, if I get myself a job I will be able to get a house and take my family to live with me. [APLA woman]

Both of the Service Corps officials interviewed express their own frustrations. They complain of a sense of entitlement and a lack of gratitude amongst participants in their programmes. They also say that there is a lack of recognition, on the part of participants, regarding the constraints facing the Service Corps. One of these officials, in particular, spoke of his frustration at the suspicion with which Service Corps initiatives are regarded and the way in which offers of free training are received. Often the first question asked by ex-combatants is whether they will be paid for attending courses, he says. The same official maintains that some participants perceive interaction with the Service Corps as an opportunity to voice their grievances about the way they have been treated more generally.

They want to use the place to address their grievances. They say, 'Call the generals' and we're just trying to help. It's mostly the SDUs we deal with because most of the exiles got into the SANDF, others have better jobs, they're in government, private companies, NGOs or small businesses ... The [SDUs] still feel like either the ANC or PAC is owing them something. I don't think so. So many people benefited - people who weren't in exile, we got them on our [MK and APLA] lists. Now they're saying they're neglected. [Service Corps official]

Interestingly, his words reflect the view that former SDUs are less entitled to assistance than former exiles. This distinction between former SDUs and externally trained cadres was raised on several occasions. His colleague, for example, also suggested that one difficulty faced by the Service Corps is that their clients tend to be the less disciplined SDUs as opposed to the more thoroughly trained exiles.

In response to the range of problems that has arisen, some changes have been made to Service Corps programmes, and others are reportedly in the pipeline. An evaluation of the programme and its impact has yet to be undertaken.


"They're frustrating us out of the system ..."

All non-statutory ex-combatant respondents who were integrated into the SANDF have since been dismissed or have resigned their posts. Anger, bitterness and frustration at the treatment received in the SANDF remain powerfully present. Their complaints include: the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction; the stigmatisation and marginalisation of former MK members; physical and psychological harassment; an absence of transparency in the institution; the inefficacy or lack of channels to address grievances; and unfair dismissals and disciplinary procedures. Most issues are underscored by concerns about racist attitudes and practices, which many consider to be systemic.

What I would like to emphasise is that in the defence force, the boers were harassing us a lot ... If we had problems, they told us that MK no longer exists [and that] this army belongs to SADF. So we were not able to work together with them because they were harassing us; doing all sorts of things to us ... We were even training in Afrikaans. So these are some of the problems we were getting in the camps. Sometimes the comrades were even beaten during training in the camps. It was those problems and many others I cannot explain. They are quite a lot, you see ... I can talk about them maybe till sunset brother, they are quite a lot. [MK/SDU]

Official reactions to complaints or disciplinary problems are a source of considerable anger.

If we had problems and told the senior commanders, they would drag their feet, and did not attend to our problem. So when we wrote to the Minister of Defence, the Minister sent people to the camp. Those people, who were unknown to us, told us that we do not want to work [and said], 'Why is it always the members of MK who have problems?' [MK/SDU]

There is nowhere to go: you will just try by all means to challenge the structures but nobody will attend [to] you. You'll end up being rendered useless. [MK/SDU]

They said I was absent without leave. Yes I agree that I was absent without leave, but when I went back to the camp, I had a letter from the district surgeon that I was ill on those days. They told me that I would [need to] produce the proof in court and that they were arresting me. I asked why they were arresting me and they told me that I would run away before going to court. [MK/SDU]

Respondents say that MK members were discriminated against by the military's administration, which was dominated by SADF elements. Remuneration issues such as the reported non-payment of salaries or docked salaries remain a key grievance.

Sometimes those boers used to freeze our monies and you couldn't claim your money for about six months, and you didn't know what the problem was and they would just not pay you, but you worked for it. [MK/SDU]

Alleged SANDF administrative bungling also colours attitudes towards the military. Some ex-soldiers who claim they were unfairly dismissed, for example, protest that they have not been paid monies due to them.

I went straight to the personnel person to check how much I was supposed to get before I leave. They made a print-out for me ... Now it is three years and I still have not received my money ... I decided to go to Pretoria headquarters and I told them my situation. They told me to go back to my unit. [The unit] told me that I was discharged from the army in 1996. I asked them how it happened because in 1997 I was still involved. I used to mark the role-call everyday. They told me that there was no way I was working at that time. Even today, I still have the print out of the money that I was supposed to get. [MK/SDU]

Divisions within SANDF forces, which have on occasion resulted in violence, are raised as a significant obstacle to integration. In one extreme example, several respondents explain how they were lured to a shebeen16 outside their military camp in the Eastern Cape, where they were attacked by 'former comrades' with hand grenades. Attempts to seek parliamentary intervention failed, and as far as they are aware, the police investigation had not progressed. This incident, they claim, was orchestrated by elements of the old guard within the SANDF. The story, however, also suggests instances of significant tension between former members of the different liberation armies within the SANDF, as well as between the former liberation forces and the former SADF:

[The attackers] were the people who have been bought by the same members of SADF. Actually it could be members of APLA who the SADF was able to buy, you see. We were staying with some of them in the camp, but we were divided. MK was on the one side, APLA on the other and SADF had its own side. We were not on good terms. [MK/SDU]

In addition, some respondents point to tensions between externally trained MK cadres and SDU members. In part, these are attributed to the lack of differentiation in the integration process between more formally trained MK soldiers and lesser-trained SDUs. SDU members who were included in the integration process were classified as 'MK' and were included as a result of their names appearing on MK's submission to the Certified Personnel Register (CPR).

There is no certificate that recommends you as an SDU. The only certificate you have which recommends you is 'APLA' or 'MK'. In that way you can understand that as an SDU you fall under MK. The difference: we were trained inside and others trained outside. No matter if you were trained under SDU, you have a certificate which will recommend you as an MK if MK instructors trained you.17 [MK/SDU]

An MK respondent says that ex-SDU members have often been ill-disciplined but because they were identified as 'MK' their behaviour reflected badly on other ex-MK cadres, and the non-statutory forces in general. This has caused resentment of SDUs amongst those with more rigorous training.

The level of training of SDUs compared to MK soldiers was low. It was a different type of training and a different type of people [were] used [as] and trained as SDUs. They were not proper soldiers and they did not have the same discipline. SDUs should have been treated differently from MK soldiers but they weren't: they were in the same category as MK soldiers. Many SDUs had no experience of the army and they lacked military discipline. Many could not handle the army and they showed themselves to be undisciplined. The SDU problems resulted in problems for everyone. Pockets of mutiny and resistance to take orders, slowed down the integration process. Most SDUs would not say they were SDU but called themselves 'MK' members and this meant that the SDU behaviour affected all MK people and statutory forces lost respect for all non-statutory forces. [MK]

The problem of discipline raised by this respondent likely led to the legitimate dismissal of some non-statutory force members. That grievances with the integration process outlined in this discussion are raised by both those who were dismissed and who left of their own volition however, point to significant structural problems with the process itself. Some felt that given the conditions they faced in the SANDF, they had little option but to leave voluntarily.

I liked the courses very much but those frustrations that we had in the military made me have to leave. Most ex-combatants are strong, we have courage, but we didn't see that anybody was even addressing these problems. It was frustrating not to even be able to raise problems. In the army there's a channel of command: you have to go up six levels and all the people [you encounter at the different levels], you have a problem with ... I would've stayed if I thought, down the line, the problems would be solved. I wanted to be somebody in the army but I left as a private. There were methods of frustrating us out of the system. [MK/SDU]

One issue contributing to dissatisfaction is the difficulty involved for some ex-liberation army members in adapting to a conventional military environment. This is evident for example in the bureaucracy and hierarchy that the respondent (cited above) found himself up against. Concerns about discriminatory treatment and that non-statutory members have been targets of a deliberate campaign to force them out of the military exacerbate the situation. For some, discrimination was reflected in the verbal abuse that they were subjected to during training.

The training was not fair because the boers used to call us names like 'poes', 'kak', 'aussie', 'moffie', 'terrorist, 'hey, wat soek jy hierso?' [What do you want here?] and [said that] they are going to make sure that we leave the army because we don't belong there. [MK/SDU]

The insulting of troops, however, is typical in many conventional militaries. SADF conscripts were also subjected to a host of insults during basic training. This issue was the subject of a series of exchanges on the 'ArmyTalk' chat line in which some former SADF members argued that liberation movement fighters who complained about their treatment in the SANDF had no real grounds for protest, and had unrealistic expectations as to how they should be treated.

What kind of army is this? If they were insulted by this it's a good thing that they were never in the old SADF! ["AT"]

This does not negate the perceptions and feelings aroused by such treatment among former MK and APLA cadres. Indeed, the methods of training, it appears, have not been adapted, nor mechanisms provided to facilitate the delicate process of integrating diverse armed forces. Moreover, on the bases of respondent reports, new insults, aimed particularly at the former liberation army soldiers, have been added to the repertoire of verbal abuse.

The experiences of former SADF members in the SANDF are generally unexplored in this study. This is because all except one respondent left the force before the change and so have no experiences of the process of integration that brought about the SANDF. A very small proportion of SADF interviewees have volunteered to remain available for call-up as members of the Citizen Force should they be required. However, the likelihood of this actually materialising, they say, is remote.

The bulk of those leaving the military come from within the SADF, and systems to facilitate this process have been relatively comprehensive, in terms of pensions, medical-aid and retrenchment packages. Many former SADF members have also taken advantage of the Voluntary Severance Package (VSP), which is calculated on years of service rendered. In comparison with the demobilisation packages offered to former liberation movement cadres, these incentives and protections can be regarded as generous.18 Nevertheless, one respondent (a former recce) who had stayed on is also dissatisfied and frustrated at the treatment he received from his former employer. He decided to leave the force primarily because of the changes that were taking place and the implications he expected these would have for his career.

Then the new government took over and some guys left, like myself, not because I couldn't live with the situation. I couldn't live with no career being spelled out to me. I was aspiring to become a big boss in the army one day ... I stayed to the end of 1996 and opted to take a severance package because what was going on did not please me at all. I worked for whatever I received in life and suddenly guys were just getting it for free and your chances were getting smaller and smaller to really get somewhere ... It was a political game [that was] going on and I'm a soldier, not a politician. I don't want to play political games. My boss at this stage was a political appointment who I'd no problems with; ... really, I got on with him quite well, and actually when I left he's ... the guy that tried the hardest to keep me in the system - one of my former enemies - and that pleased me. I like this oke, but where was I going? Where would I end up? What would happen to my career and my future? And I just decided to take the other option. [Recce]

This respondent has also struggled to access monies due to him, and several years after opting to take the VSP, has still not received it. The delay in payout has had serious consequences for his life after the military and his ability to engage in alternative income generation. Unlike those from the former liberation armies who have, similarly, not received the monies due to them, he attributes the problem to administrative incompetence rather than political sabotage. But this treatment, in combination with his dealings with the SANDF since his departure, have resulted in a profound sense of betrayal, anger and resentment.

We were 4 000 guys that left [that] month ... I was one of only four guys that put my name up for voluntary service if they ever required me ... I think that's bloody loyal. Then I started getting all these backfires. Now, if you've got a commissioned rank which is the rank that the State President has given you, you keep that for the rest of your life. Now, I had queries, I wrote ... to army headquarters - because that's what you must do, you're not allowed to speak to them, you must write letters ... 'Dear Brigadier, nah, nah, nah'. He writes back to me, 'Dear Mr [name]'. So ja, I'm not a soldier anymore but I was a Lieutenant-Colonel. So why are you addressing me as 'Mr'?! I could see his bloody attitude; he was not interested in trying to help me. So any problem is fixed from the top down, not from the bottom up. And that's why you people are doing these studies where the bottom is realising the top has got no intentions of doing it ... And that's the bottom line of the whole problem ... The voluntary severance package is a once-off payment and that's it. 'There you go, cheers'. And they never speak to you again; they hate you and you are now bad. While you're serving you cannot go on leave because it is so important you have to be available for this say it to the tape as well. Everything that ever went wrong in that organisation was your fault and it's about time that you left and you should have left many years ago. That's the way you're handled ... There's a very, very bad attitude in the military, old as well as now, to its soldiers leaving the force. [Recce]

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.