The official opening of the Military Ombud’s Office

Article by Cpl Ally Rakoma
Photos: Sgt Elias Mahuma
Posted 21 May 2013

The launch of the Military Ombud’s Office last year on 14 May 2012, under the leadership of Lt Gen (Ret) Temba Matanzima, was a remarkable event for the SA National Defence Force.

A year after his appointment as South Africa’s first Military Ombudsman, Lt Gen (Ret) Matanzima and his staff members officially took possession of the Eco Fusion office park, Highveld Extension in Centurion, Pretoria, during a ceremony held on 14 May 2013.

The Ombudsman’s first year of operations has been conducted from temporary accommodation and, while complaints have been received and handled, staffing has been the major focus.

The mandate of the military ombudsman is to investigate complaints lodged in writing by SANDF members regarding conditions of service. It also safeguards the rights of all members of the SANDF by allowing individuals to raise their concerns when they have been treated improperly or unfairly.

During the official opening ceremony, the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla, said that the Military Ombud was established as a soldier’s appeal office to deal with internal military grievance management processes. He added that it was therefore an essential ingredient in the pursuit of a systematic approach to a democratic rights-based military culture. “I wish to emphasise that it is a carefully considered extension of a well-established conventional frontier of a military culture in a democracy, consistent with contemporary demands for due process”, said Mr Makwetla.

He added that the Office of the Military Ombud was meant to act as a neutral and objective sounding board, mediator, investigator and reporter. It would also ensure good record-keeping, provide natural justice and decision-making in a timely manner and monitor adherence to democratic civil-military relations.

“The patriotic inclination to heed the call to participate in the defence of one’s country- to defend our democratic values- is a courageous act. It is therefore our moral obligation as a nation to treat with dignity all those citizens who give their lives to the lofty cause of defending our democracy”, he said.

In conclusion, Mr Makwetla said that the Office of the Military Ombud would complement, rather than compete with existing internal redress procedures in the SANDF. “Through this office our soldiers are guaranteed humane treatment and quality of life which all our citizens deserve as an inalienable right bequeathed to them by our constitution Lt Gen (Ret) Matanzima said that his office served as a Force multiplier for the SANDF and was not a threat to it, instead it served as an example of good governance and accountability.

The history of the military ombudsman in South Africa goes back almost 15 years to the 1998 Defence Review which conceptualized a military ombudsman, but the concept was not taken any further until 2005 when the Portfolio Committee on Defence revived it. This led to the Military Ombud Bill which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in May 2011

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