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Celebrating Women's Month: Rise of Women in the SA Army

Article by Themba Katsambe, Intern, SA Army Corporate Communication
Photographs by Staff Sergeant Chené Kruger, SA Army Corporate Communication

The month of August is a time to celebrate the success women have achieved, to highlight and tackle the challenges and discrimination still faced by South African women. The South African National Defence Force has taken great strides since 1994 in recruitment, training and promoting female members. The Chief Director of the SA Army Force Preparation Major General Nontobeko Mpaxa and Staff Officer 1 Protocol to Chief Army, Lieutenant Colonel Nolubalalo Skritshi are testimonies of such milestones.

Major General N. Mpaxa is a role model to any young aspiring woman serving in the SA Army. They are huge shoes to fit into as the youth tries to walk in her footsteps for guidance, discipline and heroism. Being the first female in the Infantry Formation to Command an Infantry Battalion, the first female Commander of the Army Support Base, the first Commandant at South African Army Combat Training Centre, the first woman to head up the South African Army’s Intelligence Formation – there is much to adore from the former Mkhonto we Sizwe ( MK ) veteran. The young Lieutenant Colonel N. Skritshi is honoured and privileged to have such an idol around.

“The empowerment of women in general needs one to be in a position of influence, a position of decision-making and empowering women also does not end with authority, it goes back to the individuals as females. Are they ready to be empowered?” asked the Major General on endowing female members in the SA Army.

Major General Mpaxa added that gender equity has improved post democracy, “at a lower   level, there is no problem in recruiting as many females as possible”. However, “discrimination is visible at command line, at various boards where decisions are to be made, where males move faster on high positions than females”.

The Major General’s sentiments support the statistics released by Parliamentary Monitoring Group (2015) - “the total strength of the SA National Defence Force members was 66 252, with 49 449 (75%) men and 16 753 (25%) women”. The figure of 16 753 (25%) representation of women, with 19% of women in combat and 31% in support services, adding to 50% of the women”.

“The survey also was noted that women were seriously under-represented at Senior Management Staff (SMS) level, and there was also under-representation of Africans at Colonel level, and in fact although there were significantly more Africans than Whites at Military Skills Development System (MSDS) level and private ranks, this trend was reversed the higher up in the ranks. Women in the Combat Corps were still at only 19%,” PMG.

Major General Mpaxa further stated that the problem is when women lack representation, men then speak on behalf of women. She  made a simple example of reprimanding women to dress accordingly done by men, which would be more respectful if the instruction came from a female member.

Major General Mpaxa urged women to stop undermining and negatively criticising other female colleagues in higher ranks – “you find that it is growing even among women themselves that they would prefer to be led by a male rather than a female”. The Major General reminded the SA Army of the beauty in the characteristic difference of women to their male counterparts – “and people forget the caring nature of women, the uniqueness of female – females cannot tolerate for example, troops without food, or troops on bare foot.”

“It is a fact that not all men climbing the ladder have been proven in the battlefield, the issue of combat capacity is brought up whenever a female has to  rise for instance from a “One Star” and so forth. One does not necessarily have to carry a rifle or a machine gun; at the highest level all which is needed is intellectual capital. This cannot go on forever, in whose lifetime will females be on par with males”, concluded the General.

Alongside Major General Mpaxa is another rising star also based at SA Army Headquarters, Staff Officer 1 Protocol to Chief Army, Lieutenant Colonel Nolubalalo Portia Skritshi. Just as ambitious and proud of the improvement in women representation as her senior, “ Now more women are put in positions where they are Commanders,  for example we have more female Officer Commanding in our different units,  fighting units for that matter - Artillery Regiment for instance”, she strutted.

Lieutenant Colonel Nolubalalo P. Skritshi did her Basic Training at Army Gym and soon joined Intelligence Corps.  There she worked at Intelligence Regiment as Team Leader, Troop Commander and Squadrom Second In Charge. She then worked at “School Tact Intelligence as an Instructor before moving to Defense Intelligence College as a Facilitator. She was deployed to Burundi and Sudan.

Africa will conquer when the African women rise – the calibre of the 20 000 women who marched to Union buildings in protest of pass laws are the characters that are needed today. Any young South African woman has the opportunity to become Winnie Mandela, Miriam Makeba, Charlize Theron or Caster Semenya. When the queens are happy, there is peace in the kingdom.

Chief Director SA Army Force Preparation,
Major General Nontobeko Mpaxa

Staff Officer 1 Protocol to Chief Army,
Lieutenant Colonel Nolubalalo Skritsh
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Chief Director of the SA Army Force Preparation Major General Nontobeko Mpaxa

Staff Officer 1 Protocol to Chief Army,
Lieutenant Colonel Nolubalalo Skritsh
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