South Africa: Soldiers Unhappy With Living Conditions

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Unsatisfactory living conditions at South African Air Force bases, particularly in rural areas, continued to be a problem, Members of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans heard this week.

Soldiers at three bases - AFB Makhado, Hoedspruit and Langebaanweg - told the Committee that this had led to a situation in which the majority of soldiers prefered to be transferred to bases in urban areas, such as Pretoria.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Stan Motimele, assured soldiers that the Committee would do everything in its power to ensure living conditions improved. "We recognise that by becoming a soldier you are prepared to sacrifice your life to defend the country and we are proud of that. We are also saying that we have to ensure that you are treated better so that you encourage the younger generation to become soldiers as well," Mr Motimele said.

Commanding Officers at all bases visited acknowledged that accommodation and maintenance of infrastructure were their biggest challenges. They also highlighted the unwillingness of the Department of Public Works to assist.

"Due to the drop in operational funding to the Department of Defence, bases are affected as the money they receive is too little to carry the expenses of their operational cost and keep up with the maintenance of the bases. We do what we can, but we can only stretch the money to a certain point with the little we get," said Commanding Officer AFB Makhado Base Brigadier General Schalk van Heerden.

He also informed the Committee that the base has had problems with electricity supply and due to the absence of support from the Department of Public Works, the base has to use generators, which costs both the base and the taxpayer a great deal of money.

"As we speak today, we don't have any accommodation for single female soldiers," the General said.

The Committee, which is currently on a week's oversight visit to various Air Force bases to assess the soldiers' living conditions, promised to investigate the matter. Committee Member Mr Andrew Mlangeni cautioned that even though the Committee will pursue the matter, soldiers should be aware that the National Treasury has limited resources.

The oversight trip will end this week with a visit to the state-owned arms development corporation Armscor.

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