Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu proposed a Bill for National Service in Parliament recently and said she is “convinced there could not be another solution to the huge glut of unemployed, disempowered and unskilled youth”.
Sisulu insisted the service would not be compulsory but said there were still concerns about militarising the youth.
Of the national service, the ministry of defence said: “It is an expensive exercise and there are many operational costs … It will be a two-year tertiary programme” and would be recognised as such upon completion of the course.
Sisulu spoke at length about the national-building properties of national service and also addressed any concerns about the hazards of militarising the youth. She argued that a greater danger was posed by “people who have no purpose” or discipline. She also pointed to the frequent service delivery protests and the excessive anger shown by the youth involved in the protests.
However, chairperson for Gun Free South Africa, Alan Storey, asked: “Why does it have to be provided through the military?”
‘Rape and war go hand in hand’
Storey suggested that the money should rather be invested in building infrastructure not connected with the military, saying “youth who leave school could rather be registered with community service”, centres where skills and discipline could be learnt.
By militarising the youth, said Storey, “we are perpetuating the very things we are trying to get rid of and planting seeds that will give birth to weeds”.
“From a feminist perspective,” said Storey, “the military is notoriously sexist … rape and war go hand in hand.”
Defence Ministry spokesperson Ndivhuwo Wa Ha Mabaya told the M&G that “the difference between this and the apartheid government’s national service is that it is not designed to produce soldiers, it is designed to produce leaders”.
ANC Youth League spokesperson Magdalene Moonsamy said: “It’s a great consideration by the department of defence and a great opportunity for young people to redirect their energy and a way for them to contribute to broader society. It is an opportunity for the expansion of skills.”
National Youth Development Agency’s (NYDA) CEO, Steven Ngubeni said: “We agree totally. We embrace it in the context that it is not conscription.”
The NYDA resulted from a merger of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund and the National Youth Commission in 2009.
“It must be understood that the NYS [National Youth Service] is one of the objectives [of the NYDA] … according to the legislation which is in place.”
‘You can get discipline in other places’
Ngubeni believed the army is “the best option to instill a basic level of discipline” and also said it afforded opportunities for training in “journalism, physical science and even to learn about medicine”.
Ikamvayouth is a non-profit youth empowerment organisation. Board member Colin Beck said “our problems are service orientated … I don’t think running through an obstacle course with a rifle is going to do anything to help.”
“You can get discipline in other places,” he said.
But the DA expressed doubts about funding for a national service. “How will an increasingly under-funded defence force afford a voluntary national service system?” asked David Maynier, the DA shadow minister of defence and military veterans.
“The DA knows very well that the funds are allocated in line with the programme,” Mabaya told the M&G
He did not wish to “thumb suck” the figures, but said by way of example that presently the defence force took 5 000 young people into its programme (out of 62 000 applicants) every year. This comes at an annual cost of R150-million.
“Let us first look at the funds allocated and the resources needed and then decide the numbers,” he said.
Mabaya said “we are asking for national debate”, over the matter and said that “after the World Cup we will be starting to engage more vigorously”.
As part of the debate, the ministry of defence planned “communication road shows” to discuss what the public want to see from a national service. “We will also meet with youth formations, across all party lines,” said Mabaya.
Mabaya said the ministry of defence “are very determined about this and we think it is something South Africa must embrace”.