SA Army Breaks New Ground Qualifying More Officers in a Drive to Address its Military Law Backlog

Article by Lieutenant Marumo Machete, SA Army Corporate Communication

The SA Army took the military law training of its officers to unprecedented heights with a pilot programme that enrolled a record 112 learners at 10 South African Infantry battalion in Mahikeng.
In what is seen as a groundbreaking intervention supported by the SA National Defence Force's military law custodian, Defence Legal Service's School of Military Justice, over 112 SA Army officers attended military law training at 10 SAI Battalion.
The ten-week programme planned and spearheaded by SA Army Chief Directorate Force Preparation under Major General Nontobeko Mpaxa, came to being through instruction from Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, who saw a concerning gap in the knowledge and application of military law staff work by some officers.
Lieutenant General Yam called for an urgent intervention to help address this gap and empower officers to efficiently deal with the administration of boards of enquiry, officer commanding investigations, arraignment of members and others related law aspects that would improve adherence to the Military Disciplinary Code as well as the Military Disciplinary Supplementary Measurements Act.
The feat achieved by the SA Army through this intervention was unprecedented because it was the first military law programme to enrol a huge number of learners at a go. Ordinarily, the School of Military Justice sees 30 learners trained on each ten-week programme which takes place three times in a year bringing the total haul to 90 learners per annum, but this course pushed the envelope and stretched all imaginable boundaries and surpassed the year’s training turnover for the School of Military Justice in only a period spanning two-and-a-half months.
Speaking to learners and guests during the end-course certificate ceremony in the North West town of Mahikeng, Major General Mpaxa lamented the state of affairs the SA Army faces in as far as prosecution of military law cases are concerned saying a lot needed to be done to empower officers to execute their responsibilities better.
“The SA National Defence Force has lost cases and investigations have failed because Legsato was unable to use the legal documents submitted by many of our officers owing to poor staff work and procedural flaws that were unable to withstand the test of admissibility in a court of law,” Major General Mpaxa said.
Major General Mpaxa also decried the fact that military law was discontinued as a promotional course resulting in a number of officers disassociating themselves from it.
“The discontinuation of this mandatory promotional requirement cost us dearly and we are now sitting with officers, some very senior, who do not have the ability to correctly prosecute military law aspects,” Major General Mpaxa added.
Chief Director Army Force Preparation was however hopeful that the pilot programme they have been on has exposed them to the correct principles and procedures that military law dictates.
“I am certain that the time you spent here equates to resources well invested because we expect a return on investment regarding your legal staff work when you return to your fields of operation,” Major General Mpaxa said.
She added that there will be many other programmes to follow this pilot project so as to address the huge backlog of officers who still need to complete the military law course.
Lieutenant Colonel Rikus Slabbert, Acting Officer in Charge at School of Military Justice, said the pilot project was an intervention to assist the SA Army to deal with its military law backlog.
Lieutenant Colonel Slabbert highlighted that since 1999 a number of military law qualified officers took a decapitating nose dive since most people did not do the course as a promotional course but just as an empowerment course, meaning a lot of officers opted out of it resulting in the lack of capacity that we are currently faced with.
“There has also been a perception that the course is difficult and most people saw no need to complete it,” Lieutenant Colonel Slabbert said.
He however said despite the huge numbers that his staff now had to deal with as a result of this pilot project, he was satisfied with the level of comprehension that the members on course displayed.
He indicated that the Defence Act demands that the Department of Defence establish a departmental course in law and train its people and that the programme was intended for that purpose to empower officers with the necessary technical ability to conduct their work in a legally acceptable way.
“Law follows us everywhere we go. It doesn’t matter if you are working with artillery, housing or supply chain management. Everywhere there is law and the basic principles you take with once you have completed this course will stand you in good stead throughout your career,” Lieutenant Colonel Slabbert concluded.
Having to accommodate, feed and manage 113 officers in an operational unit is obviously a mammoth task that comes with its logistical challenges and it took dedicated men and women with commitment to successfully prosecute.
Major Francios Sass, the Acting Officer Commanding 10 SAI battalion led a team of soldiers that ensured that the logistical necessities for this training to succeed were in place.
“When the assignment to host a course of this magnitude came, I was naturally shaken by daunting logistical challenges that go with hosting 120 officers at a unit like ours. We had to realign our priorities and took the challenge to satisfy the wish of Chief Army. As a commander, regardless of the daunting task ahead, I had to make it work,” Major Sass said.
Captain Charles Gregory, the Course’s Logistical Coordinator, speaks highly of the commitment of his fatique team and the leadership provided by his Officer Commanding.
“The acting Officer Commanding, Major Francios Saas, told us about the task and said it looks like an insurmountable one but rallied us to make it happen. He really motivated us and his leadership came through,” Gregory said.
Captain Gregory points to his hardworking team of soldiers who worked around the clock to ensure that the unit achieved its mandate to host over 100 learners on course.
“I am very proud of my guys. They are a fatique team that made it all happen. Everything achieved here was partly as a result of the effort made by this team. What the unit here did is testament of what is possible when the people commit to do work.”
Major Sass highlighted that it was not only 10 SAI that should take credit of the successful hosting of the course but other units that contributed like 21 Infantry Battalion, 2 South African Infantry battalion, School of Intelligence, Army Support Base Potchefstroom, Joint Tactical HQ North West, 4 South African Infantry battalion, 8 South African Infantry battalion and 1 South African Infantry battalion.
With the completion of this pilot programme in military law and other similar courses in the pipeline aimed at empowering as many officers as possible and thus address the huge backlog the SA Army is facing, there can be no doubt that there is work in progress to heed the call by Chief of the SA Army to ensure that all officers successfully complete military law.
What the learners say about their experience on course:
Major Desiree Brink, Signal Unit, Northern Cape. “The course helps reinforce our confidence in performing our duties as officers. Commanders at all levels need to undergo the course to make their lives easier.”
Major Nadine Meintjies, MOD Signal Unit. “The programme helps commanders in decision making and enhances how we apply ourselves in different situations. The knowledge we take away from here will surely come in handy when we are faced with difficult legal situations in future.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jackie Sindimba, School of Intelligence in Potchefstroom. “The course is very empowering and I suggest that there be a refresher course for all those who did the programme before amendment to the Defence Act was effected. We now have the necessary legal background to deal with various scenarios in the workplace because the course exposed us to among other things operational law and related aspects. I feel I should have done the course earlier in my career because it adds tremendous value to one’s professional life.”
Major Wayne Van der Plank, SA Army Intelligence Formation. “I am excited. The course is an eye-opener that affords one to view things we do in the military with a different and wiser eye. I found that what I learned here is applicable to all spheres of my career.”
Major Vuyo Booysen, School of Tactical Intelligence. “The course empowers commanders and provides them with the tools to take great command and control decisions. An empowered commander would then ensure that he/she shares the knowledge gained here with surbordinates and peers. It is a good thing that the Chief of the Army wants the course to be compulsory and taken seriously by all officers.”
Major Mpho Mosweu, North West Signal Unit. “This programme is crucial in the life of a commander because it prepares us to take legal decisions that would not disadvantage the organisation and put it into disrepute. I encourage as many people as possible to enrol and complete this wonderful learning experience.”
Candidate Officer Thandiwe Mpoba, 16 Maintenance. “Military Law for officers is an important programme. I am very lucky to have done it at this early stage of my career. I will take it upon myself to positively influence the way military law related issues are handled at environments that I work in. I will surely use what I have learnt to empower others with the little knowledge that I have.”