Defence minister appoints task team to investigate sexual assault cases in SANDF

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has set up an external task team to probe allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the SANDF because she said she could not trust the military to investigate itself.

Speaking as she introduced the four-member ministerial task team of sexual exploitation and abuse to the Military Command Council at the SANDF headquarters, the minister said: “I have absolute confidence in the structures of the SANDF, but with regards to handling this particular issue, my confidence is very limited.

“The Defence Force is a close-knit community that is able to rally around and close itself into a shell. I think it’s about time the Defence Force opened itself up to scrutiny in order to self-correct. This is not a security matter that must be dealt with behind closed doors. It’s a matter of criminality, power relations, abuse of individuals.”

A report leaked to the media showed that only 13 of about 41 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse reported in the SANDF were completed. The minister said the task team would investigate why in some cases victims had been reluctant to testify, adding that victims have a right to come forward and report sexual harassment.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the task team would investigate cases dating to 2014 and that in executing their mandate, the task team would take steps to determine what measures were in place to protect and support victims from the moment a matter is reported until its finalization.

“The victims should be given special attention in the legislative frameworks in place and in the processes put in place to manage the systems developed to address the focus areas outlined as well as departmental policies.”

One of the first tasks of the team is to establish a hotline to operate for the duration of the team’s mandate.

The purpose of the hotline is to enable SANDF members to report incidents of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse or sexual offences cases. The hotline will also enable the reporting of incidents where such matters were reported but no action was taken.

Mapisa-Nqakula said that SANDF members should use the hotline to report on their experiences in reporting sexual abuse.

The minister said sexual abuse allegations from countries such as the DRC, where South African troops are deployed, raised concerns about abuses at home.

When asked whether she had any related worries about the ongoing deployment on the Cape Flats, the minister said: “I have absolute confidence in the ability of the Defence Force and its capabilities in that deployment.”

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