Ombudsman Appointment Shows SA's Democracy Maturing
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu Claims SA's Democracy is Maturing as a Military Ombudsman is Appointed
South Africa's democracy and citizens' awareness of their right to seek recourse over grievances has continued to gain strength since 1994, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on Monday.
She was addressing delegates at the swearing-in ceremony of the country's newly-appointed military ombudsman at the Thaba Tshwane military base in Pretoria.
"Today, our soldiers have a greater sense of their right to recourse for grievance procedures than they did in 1994. Our defence force institutions have changed substantially," she said.
Former acting chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Lt-Gen Themba Mathanzima was sworn in by Judge Francis Legodi of the High Court in Pretoria.
The Military Ombud Act was passed by Parliament in March after it was tabled in June 2011.
"The ombud is mandated to improve the quality of life for members of the national defence force. We hope to achieve this with the appropriate cost," Sisulu said.
She said she had taken Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's recommendation to have "a person associated with the culture and practice of the military" to handle complaints from the military.
Earlier, Madonsela told the gathering that Mathanzima should not hesitate to make objective decisions against the SANDF.
"Being a member of the family... do not treat the defence community as a mafia," she said.
"In the mafia, if you are a member of the family, you do not make decisions against family. Family is always right in the mafia," she said.
"I hope that that will not be the case with you. If you do that, you will render this office not an ombud office, but a lapdog."
Defence secretary Sam Gulube said, at the event, that the ombud's brief was to investigate all complaints raised internally by members of the SANDF.
"He will not be investigating matters raised in the media or other platforms," said Gulube.
"The military ombud may not investigate a complaint relating to the manner in which a military judge performs his or her functions as a judge.
"Very importantly, the ombud may refuse to investigate a complaint if the investigation may undermine channels of command in the defence force," he said.
Mathanzima pledged that all complaints raised within the SANDF would be investigated impartially and expeditiously, without fear, favour or prejudice.
"This office is not to be feared or perceived as a threat to the defence force, but should exist as an example of proper governance and accountability.
"It is an office that will empower members of the defence force to direct their grievances using proper channels."