Defence force and government could be heading for quotas battle
In a move set to pit the Defence Department against the government, the military is trying to reverse racial quotas. The latest Institute of Race Relations (IRR) survey shows the military plans to employ more white troops and fewer blacks.
The institute’s research is based on information in the Defence Department’s annual report and its own calculations.
But while the defence force admits a shortage of white personnel, it says any recruitment drive is not based on racial quotas.
The survey shows the Defence Department’s employment equity targets as:
- Black employment decreasing from 72% to 65%;
- Coloured employment dropping from 13% to 10%;
- Indian employment remaining at 1%, and
- The employment of whites increasing from 14% to 24%.
The IRR also found huge vacancy levels within the military’s land and air defence and its health and defence intelligence services.
The military has 57 141 black, 10 991 white, 10 099 coloured and 916 Indian members at present.
Researcher Kerwin Lebone said the institute had repeatedly requested reasons from the military for the planned new quotas, but to no avail.
“We believe a skills shortage, especially of members to operate equipment bought during the arms deal and subsequent acquisitions, is the reason.
“There are not enough skilled people,” Lebone said.
“It’s no secret equipment is lying around because no one can operate it.
“Look at the air force and its grounded fighter jets which can’t be flown because there are hardly any pilots.”
He said when the military started its exit programme for white personnel to meet national demographics in terms of employment equity, it could not have foreseen that the new equipment would need people with experience or skills.
“Because of this, one of the things the defence force is doing is hiring skilled personnel. This is because it takes time to train people,” Lebone said.
SA National Defence Union national secretary Pikkie Greeff said the military found itself in this position because “when they started awarding exit packages, they let too many of the racial groupings that they want to increase now, go.
“Now they are sitting with the results of a completely skewed picture reflecting the demographics – this is the problem,” Greeff said.
Lebone said the institute believed that when there was a dire shortage of skills, the principles of empowerment had to be weighed against what was important for the country.
The military will have a hard time attracting white personnel.
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said: “Whites, unfortunately, look at the SA National Defence Force and see no point in joining because they believe they won’t be promoted.
“There’s a problem with recruitment where the focus has been on undoing the racial imbalance of the past without taking into account the future racial mix balance.”
Heitman said while good white officers were being promoted on merit, they were few.
“There must be a refocus on whites being drawn into the defence force and being promoted.
“Promotions must be done on merit, with remedial actions taken to bring the education and health of all recruits up to the same standard.
“The side effect of this is that the defence force will get more people with better education, but they will never admit this as the primary reason.”
Defence Department spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini admitted there was a shortage of full-time white members but said there were no plans to change racial quotas.
“In terms of the 2014 South African Defence Review, the department’s personnel system must … adhere to the principles of equity and equal opportunities,” he said.
“The SANDF’s recruitment campaigns include high schools and tertiary institutions.
“Potential white recruits are also reached and invited to consider following a military career,” Dlamini said.