Ramaphosa announces ‘substantial changes’ to armed forces leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced five new appointments to the Military Command Council (MCC), bidding farewell to the controversial chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), General Solly Shoke.

During an announcement on Wednesday evening, 14 April, Ramaphosa, as commander-in-chief of the SANDF, welcomed five new members to the MCC as several members retire or are on their way out. 

Ramaphosa noted that this was the “most substantial change of command of the armed forces in several years”.

Appointed as the new chief of the SANDF is Lieutenant-General Rudzani Maphwanya, who will be promoted to general when he starts in his new role on     1 June 2021. 

“Lt-Gen Maphwanya is a highly decorated officer with vast operational experience. His military career began in 1978 in Umkhonto weSizwe and, since 1994, he has held numerous positions in the SANDF,” Ramaphosa said. 

Soon to join Maphwanya is Major-General Siphiwe Sangweni as chief of joint operations, Major-General Wiseman Simo Mbambo as chief of the South African Air Force, Major-General Ntshavheni Maphaha as surgeon general, and Major-General Thalita Mxakato as chief of defence intelligence — the first woman to hold this rank. 

“Before joining the defence intelligence division in 2003, [Mxakato] served in the South African Military Health Services and the defence inspectorate division. This is a significant — and long-overdue — development in the ongoing effort to advance the position of women in our armed forces,” the president said. 

The SANDF has found itself knee-deep in several controversies in the past year. 

In May 2020, the force came under scrutiny after the death of Collins Khosa, who was assaulted by members of the SANDF and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown. 

There was also the issue of senior ANC members last year hitching a ride to Zimbabwe on an airforce jet with Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The minister ended up having her salary docked for three months, and the governing party had to pay back R105 000 for abusing state resources. 

Also denting the defence force’s image is the fact that the defence and military veterans’ portfolio committee is investigating alleged irregularities in the SANDF’s more than R200-million expenditure on Cuban medicine in 2020, initially meant for fighting Covid-19. 

The medicine turned out to have no prior approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, nor was it registered with the authority. 

On Thursday, Parliament’s joint standing committee on defence welcomed the new appointments, while broadly acknowledging the “challenges” facing the force. 

“The appointments offer stability and effective succession planning, which is critical in ensuring that the defence force is able to deliver on its objective of defending and protecting the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people,” said the committee’s co-chairperson, Mamagase Nchabeleng.  

Co-chair Cyril Xaba added: “While the challenges faced by the SANDF are many, especially with the budget shortfall, we have full confidence in the appointed leaders to effectively resolve those challenges.”

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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