Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has launched a ministerial task team to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) cases in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The task team has been given three months to look at the reporting, management and finalisation of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual offences cases from 2014 to date.
The scope of the investigation covers cases committed while troops are home-bound and during external deployments.
The four-person panel of experts – Thoko Mpumlwana as chairperson, retired major-general Daphne Nodola, Britta Rotmann and Mongezi Guma – will be supported by a team of psychologists, social workers and chaplains to assist survivors.
“There are seemingly high numbers of incidents and cases that are unreported, given the nature of the military command and control structure,” Mapisa-Nqakula told a media briefing on Monday 2 December.
She later referenced incidents where senior military personnel have asked juniors for sexual favours in exchange for promotion.
The minister appointed an external panel because she was “not pleased” with internal disciplinary structures.
She inferred this earlier in the month during a meeting with general and flag officers where she announced that a task team would be established. She said a “blind eye” had been turned after she caught wind of numerous abuse and harassment cases.
The focus has been on alleged sexual crimes by SANDF troops against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which she said had caused a “blind spot to the scourge internally”.
A total of 1,300 South African troops are serving in the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO.
By 2017, 138 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by SANDF troops against civilians in that country had been reported.
The United Nations reported that in 2018, more than 1,000 cases of conflict-related sexual violence were documented. The majority were against women and girls. Most of the cases were attributed to armed groups and occurred in the North and South Kivu provinces of the country – hot spots for armed conflict.
Defence Web also reported in 2018 that the SANDF was investigating allegations of “sexual misconduct” by five soldiers who had possibly fathered children with four women and a minor between 2014 and 2016.
Another recent case committed by SANDF troops includes the sexual abuse of women in the North Kivu towns of Sake, Beni and Goma in 2018. One woman who gave birth to a child is seeking child support.
After media questioned Mapisa-Nqakula on a leaked internal report regarding sex exploitation and abuse cases in the SANDF, she was initially concerned that the media had acquired the report illegally, adding that its contents should not be the primary focus, but later said the report would form the basis for the task team’s investigation.
The Mail & Guardian, to whom the document was leaked, published that at least 41 members of the army had been charged with sexual-related offences ranging from rape and assault to harassment and crimen injuria (offensive language/gestures). Of those cases, 26 have been finalised, with 13 guilty verdicts and 11 acquittals.
“There is no real punishment for SEA offences,” Mapisa-Nqakula said, referring to cases in the report where officers were fined between R5,000 and R6,000, were demoted from their ranks or suspended.
She, however, said that rape cases would not be dealt with by military structures, but would go through civilian courts.
A journalist questioned whether the SANDF deployment in the Cape Flats was a danger to civilians given the sexual crimes committed by some SANDF members. In response, Mapisa-Nqakula expressed her “absolute confidence” in the troops, saying they had already brought “stability” to the Cape Flats.
A hotline will be established to encourage survivors to report fresh cases and follow up on those where no action was taken. DM
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