She is also the first female commander to be deployed operationally across our borders. I thank her. [Applause.]
We have Lieutenant Tessa Du Toit, the first female navigator on the Hawks'. [Applause.] She is also the first female navigator on SAAF fighter aircraft. [Applause.] We also have Lieutenant Tiro Tsotetsi, who is the first person in the history of the SA Air Force to be awarded all four floating trophies presented to top students at the Wings Parade graduation. [Applause.] Tsotetsi was born and raised in Vosloorus. Look where he is now! [Applause.]
We have Major General Catherine Labuschagne, and the first female Gripen pilot. Please stand up. There she is. [Applause.] We have Commander ... I don't know whether "Handsome" is his name ... Commander Handsome Thamsanqa Matsane ... [Laughter.] [Applause.] He is the first black submarine commander - from the dry and arid Mpumalanga to commander of the seas. Congratulations! [Applause.]
Chairperson, this is a sample of what we in the Defence Force are capable of. This is our future, our pride, the embodiment of our vision. [Applause.] This leads me to the other main thrust of my address today. We will give you the vision of the Defence Force for our country. While the President, in the state of the nation address, explained the vision of economic growth through infrastructural development, we will provide you with our vision of the security infrastructure that will underpin defence in the country, support economic growth in the national interest and protect the country against its most severe silent threat: that of unemployed youth.
Our vision is to provide a competent, committed soldier, with unquestionable patriotism; a soldier whose goal is to serve and to serve with pride beyond the call of duty. This soldier will be supported by a competent machinery that will make it possible for him to intervene and protect against all threats. Our vision is to raise the profile of the nobility of the role of the soldier in our society and to ensure that society understands and gives back, in equal measure, respect and gratitude for his work. Our vision is of the soldier who will take his place and play an important role in the economy of the country, to ensure that we can truly say: We are creating a better and safer life for all. Our vision is of a soldier who is contracted by the state, understanding his full responsibility to the Constitution that requires him to be disciplined. And a state that, in return, will commit itself to ensuring that the soldier is looked after, within the means available, in equal measure, as we demand of him to give to the state. In recognition of the fact that a soldier is in a profession that takes away some of his rights, the state will commit itself to ensuring that the soldier is protected and works in an environment that ensures his dignity, that ensures his growth and development, that ensures that his total wellbeing is cared for; that his work is recognised and honoured, and that the Defence Force becomes an employer of choice and prestige. Our vision is of a soldier who takes part in the development of cutting-edge technology; and a soldier who will serve with pride in Africa, raising our flag high, saving lives and creating a better continent.
We, as representatives of the state, will in turn commit ourselves to giving back what we demand of the soldier. We have created a different dispensation to enable us to do that. We have now concluded our first study, conducted by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission, to benchmark against international best practice and which is based also on our own experience and research done in our own environment.
We have taken a number of decisions, which are enabled by the new dispensation, and which will come into effect in the next two financial years. The decisions are as follows. The first point is that the salaries of our soldiers will be adjusted to acknowledge years of service. [Applause.] Essentially, we are de-linking salaries from rank. Because of the sheer size of the Defence Force, a great number of our soldiers are trapped in particular ranks with no prospect whatsoever of improvement in their salaries.
The Defence Force Service Commission, the DFSC, is tasked to deal with this as a matter of priority. We expect that it will take eight months for them to work on this, but, by the end of this year and by the beginning of the next financial year, the salaries of soldiers will reflect all of that, within our budgetary limits. This is a much-needed breakthrough that soldiers have been burdened with. It is now within our sights. We are now afloat.
The second aspect is that a soldier gives his entire life to the state and the state takes on the responsibility to look after him, as a unit of his family. The children of the soldiers are therefore our responsibility. When their mothers are deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Sudan, we should ensure that the children's welfare is not compromised. To that effect, therefore, all children between the ages of three months and five years will be taken care of by the Department of Defence and Military Veterans - those that are our children ... [Applause.] ... within the existing framework of free primary school care criteria for deployed soldiers. Every base, every facility, will have to provide crches or pre- schools. Gone are the days when men were soldiers and women stayed behind to look after children. We have a responsibility to free our women soldiers to pursue their careers in the same way as men have always been free to do. [Applause.] The necessary policy to support this has already been drafted and approved. Therefore this takes effect in this financial year. [Applause.]
The third point is that every soldier will be able to convert his training into academic qualifications. We are restructuring our training programme to align it with the SA Qualifications Authority's requirements so that the totality of courses undertaken by soldiers will qualify as commensurate tertiary qualifications.
A system to ensure that all officers are academically developed as graduates will commence during the in-year. The professionalisation of an officer through a learning path of military professional education and training will result in all young officers being in possession of a bachelor degree by the time they are promoted to the rank of major by 2020. Subsequently, Joint Senior Command and Staff Programme graduates will attain a postgraduate diploma or honours degree that will pave the way for Executive National Security Programme graduates to be ranked at the level of a master's degree. These degrees will be awarded through institutions of higher education, accredited by the Council on Higher Education.
This means that no soldier will leave the Defence Force, should they choose to, unqualified. He or she will leave with a certificate that can advantage him or her, should he or she seek an alternative career. It also means that no colonel will be without a certificate and no general without a degree. The cumulative training will not have been in vain, and the net effect will be a professional defence force.
The fourth point is that the provision of high-quality, reliable and right- sized accommodation for our soldiers is the singularly most important and urgent priority for us. It is for this reason that I have commissioned a defence estate reforms programme that will rationalise defence estate and ensure that there is internal capability to plan, provide, operate and maintain all properties belonging to the Defence Force.
The final part of the implementation of this new dispensation will be the upgrading of the living conditions of our soldiers.
However, I need to stress that it is the responsibility of all soldiers to ensure that the environment where they stay represents their sense of pride. Soldiers are required to keep their bases in spotless condition. These are now our responsibility. We no longer have the excuse of blaming the Department of Public Works for broken windows. The commanding officers would therefore have to structure their bases in such a way as to ensure proper management of our properties and to ensure that they are kept in conditions that only soldiers can.
The fifth issue is that soldiers sacrifice enough with the unique nature of military life and the financial hardship that sometimes accompanies their careers. There are numerous soldiers in the SANDF who unknowingly sacrifice their financial future - in addition to all the other sacrifices they make - by not investing in an essential asset, such as owning a home.
A housing allowance scheme will be tailor-made to suit the organisational uniqueness of the SA National Defence Force, and a housing subsidy scheme will be investigated and implemented. A housing guarantee will be provided to all members applying to purchase property to the value of 20% of the home loan. Currently, members are negotiating interest rates with financial institutions for housing loans on an individual basis. Financial institutions are giving interest rates based on an individual member's financial profile. We intend to negotiate a pact with financial institutions where, as the employer, we can stand in part guarantee to negotiate more favourable rates with financial institutions in a collective manner. This means therefore that, Public Protector, no soldier will ever again retire without a house as an asset. [Applause.]
The sixth aspect, as I have indicated, we now have a Military Ombud, the first of its kind in our country and a product that was initiated by this Parliament. I am glad that we have the Public Protector here, because without her the Bill would not have seen the light of day. Thank you.
I also want to inform you about what the hon Koornhof has told me in that the Bill was actually hand-drafted by the then chairperson of the portfolio committee, Prof Kader Asmal, after his visit to Germany. He wrote it by hand, every single line of it, before it was given to you. Our gratitude goes to him and his honour. Military Ombud, we hope that we will be able to provide the necessary service. [Applause.]
We want to ensure that we have a healthy system for our soldiers. Therefore, all commanding officers, chiefs of services and chiefs of divisions have a responsibility that will be written into their annual performance agreement to ensure that the morale of soldiers is their responsibility. They are responsible for the wellbeing of the soldiers and answerable in that regard. The commanding officers , therefore, will be responsible for the entirety of what a soldier experiences at his base.
All these benefits that I have outlined, and many more that I could not put into my speech, accrue to the soldier through the new dispensation and are contained in a brochure that we are preparing for distribution. However, we are working on all these benefits for our soldiers, but I want to remind them that for every benefit there is a responsibility in democracy. I want to remind them that the compact that I enter into with them, on behalf of government, is that they will be the leading lights of society. I demand from them a service to the state that will honour the lives of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
In this new arrangement, we enter into an agreement that after soldiers' training, each soldier will take an oath, as already embodied in the code of conduct. Ordinary workers are not called upon to take an oath, but soldiers are called upon to take this oath. By taking an oath, we commit ourselves to being the calibre of a soldier we have in the Defence Force defending the Constitution.
I want to share with you, as I indicated earlier, our vision of a soldier who will take part in ensuring that he provides and supports the necessary infrastructure for economic development, already well enumerated by the President in his state of the nation address. As part of that contribution, the Chief of the SA National Defence Force has initiated an investigation on how the SANDF can appropriately support the development agenda of government with a particular focus on rural areas.
The dispensation of defence facilities leans towards an ability to interface with rural communities. In this regard, I have approved a concept in terms of which the Defence Force will use its footprint in rural and semi-rural areas in terms of units, land and spending of resources in conjunction with local communities, rural towns, provincial governments and other stakeholders to augment and catalyse rural developmental initiatives by providing nodal points or hubs from which community engagement, stakeholder co-ordination and structural requirements toward creating viable and sustainable local economies can take place.
To give effect to this, the department will revise the current procurement policy. The idea is to embed units in their local economies and thereby further strengthen the linkage between the elements of the Defence Force and their communities within which they reside. This will be to the benefit of small and micro businesses, as well as to large-scale commercial and emerging farmers in the rural areas. The SANDF involvement will be configured without adversely affecting their core business. The Chief of the Defence Force will appoint a project manager to pilot this.
We will use our bases as a footprint of development wherever we are. A few years ago, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, invited the President of this country to hand over some facilities that were used by MK soldiers to the Ugandan Defence Force. When we did that, the President remarked how unique it was that in those bases that we were handing over, the local community benefited with a nursery school, a school and a clinic. He asked me if we too were doing the same. I was too embarrassed to tell the truth - that we were not.
Now, it is at the centre of our development programme. Wherever we are, we will ensure that the community around us benefits from our infrastructure, our schools and our clinics. We will empower them by training them in agriculture produce and we will purchase for our own use that which they produce. [Applause.] We will upgrade our roads, opening up rural areas to enjoy the benefits of development.
I indicated to you last year that maritime security remains one of our priority areas. South Africa's coastline spans a whole 3 000 kilometres and three oceans, located on a major strategic shipping route. Almost 80% of the country's trade volume is by sea. We also have extensive shoreline interests, namely islands, marines, offshore gas resources - you name them.
Our department has recognised the threat against the notion of innocent passage and the freedom of the seas. Thus, we have put before this House the maritime strategy, which was approved by the heads of state of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, in August 2011. This is by far the most advanced naval strategy that the continent has ever been involved in. So comprehensive is our maritime security strategy that we were even able - within the shortest possible time - to respond to a request by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to assist them with performing the shipping management function of their fleet.
The economic spin-offs from our maritime strategy are amazing. They range from the preservation of the livelihood of the fishermen to lowering the costs of doing business through our ports, to the creation of a ship- building industry in our country, to name but a few.
In my 2010 budget statement, I reminded Parliament about the long-standing policy directive to develop a national youth service, which would prepare and support our youth, youths whose normal social skills and competence were clearly lacking according to our own research. Thank you. [Time expired.] [Applause.]