Army acts to improve legal knowledge of officers
Recognising a potential problem area in the SA Army, its Chief, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, moved swiftly with the assistance of his Director: Force Preparation to contain it and ensure the hole that is knowledge and application of military law in staff work was properly plugged. This saw more than 110 officers from the landward force recently attend a special military law training course at 10 SA Infantry Battalion in Mafikeng. An indication of the importance attached to this initial round of military legal training comes from the official SA Army website. It called the event an “intervention to help address this gap in the knowledge and application of military law and empower officers to efficiently deal with administration of boards of enquiry, officer commanding investigations, arraignment of members and other related law aspects to improve adherence to the Military Disciplinary Code as well as the Military Disciplinary Supplementary Measurements Act”. That it was attended by more than 100 officers was also noteworthy because “ordinarily the School of Military Justice sees 30 learners trained on each ten week programme three times in a year bringing the total haul to 90 learners per annum, but this course pushed the envelope and stretched boundaries to surpass the year’s training turnover for the School of Military Justice in only two-and-a-half months”. Speaking after the course the driver of force preparation in the SA Army, Major General Nontobeko Mpaxa, said a lot had to be done to empower officers to better execute their responsibilities as regards prosecution of military law cases. “The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has lost cases and investigations have failed because Legsato (Legal Satellite Office) was unable to use legal documents submitted by many officers owing to poor staff work and procedural flaws unable to withstand the test of admissibility in a court of law,” she said adding it was sad military law had been discontinued as a promotional course. This had seen “a number of officers disassociating themselves from it”.
“The discontinuation of this mandatory promotional requirement cost us dearly and we are now sitting with officers, some very senior, who do not have the ability to correctly prosecute military law aspects.” She told those who attended the course it was a case of resources being well invested and “we expect a return on that investment when you return to your fields of operation.” More similar courses and programmes are planned to address what Mpaxa said was “the huge backlog of officers who still need to complete the military law course”. Lieutenant Colonel Rikus Slabbert, Acting Officer in Charge at School of Military Justice, said the number of military law qualified officers had taken “a dive since 1999. This was because the course was done as an empowerment one rather than a promotional one. “There has also been a perception that the course is difficult and most saw no need to complete it. “Law follows us everywhere we go. It doesn’t matter if you are working with artillery, housing or supply chain management. Everywhere there is law and the basic principles you take with once you have completed this course will stand you in good stead throughout your career,” he said.