South Africa: Civilian Oversight of the SA Military Slipping Away

The army in Manenberg, Cape Town (file photo).

Perhaps the most pernicious problem in South Africa's polity is whether the military is an instrument of public policy or of a political party and elite.

During the apartheid era, the "old" South African Defence Force (SADF) was feared by some and hated by many. This reflected its role and, too, its considerable capacity for war-fighting, albeit for a purpose and at a cost that was unconscionable.

In the immediate post-apartheid era, the SADF was integrated with the Bantustan armies and other "non-statutory" forces to form the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). South Africa's 1994 transition to democracy meant, among other changes, adopting a new approach to defence with the creation of the SANDF. More than simply an exercise in institutional integration, the Defence Force was firmly placed under civilian control, through emboldened parliamentary oversight and the creation of the Defence Secretariat, legislated to "provide the Chief of the Defence Force with comprehensive instructions requiring the Chief of the Defence Force to issue orders and directives and give commands ... ".

The ordering of the SANDF into a democratic context was shaped, too, by the issuing of a Defence White Paper (Defence in a Democracy) in 1996, and a...

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