Boots on the ground; hair nearly tied back under military head gear, and exuding unflinching confidence – women of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on Thursday proved their mettle at an all-female parade in their honour.
“It’s not every day that you get to command the whole defence force. It’s a privilege and I’m really honoured,” says Lieutenant Colonel Nthabeleng Mathye.
Just hours before Mathye — dressed in an immaculate uniform complimented by a flattering lip colour — was the battalion commander at the SANDF’s Women’s Day parade held in Thaba Tshwane on Thursday.
Mathye, who is passionate about drilling, commanded an all-girl group of all four arms of the SANDF – namely the South African Army, the South African Airforce, the South African Navy and the South African Military Health Services parade which was addressed by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Carrying out her duties with finesse, the Minister and the public were treated to the parade which is held on an annual basis to pay tribute to all female serving members of the SANDF.
Mathye is a member of the South African Airforce.
The parade is held annually in the month of August in which South Africa commemorates Women’s Month.
“I was nominated to come and do this. It’s a privilege and I’m really honoured .Women can do better than men because truly speaking we outdid ourselves, we were beautiful, we did a perfect job and it was very beautiful,” said Mathye, who expressed pride at being given the opportunity that was witnessed by the Minister.
“I am so proud that the Minister was here, and I must say that I’m really proud of what we did today,” she said.
Addressing the parade, the Minister, who earlier conducted an inspection of the battalion, said it was a privilege to preside over the parade.
“For me it is also humbling especially since the start of the new administration that I once more deliver an address at this event as we pay tribute to all our female soldiers currently serving as well as those who have since retired,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
The emancipation of women
She said the drive for the emancipation of women at all levels and the fight for equality will always be close to her heart, stressing that it must remain a focus area within the Department of Defence (DOD).
The Minister encouraged women soldiers to speak out and report all forms of discrimination, victimization, sexual harassment and abuse.
“These appalling acts, do not belong in a department such as DOD where soldiers and civilians should uphold the Constitution,” she said.
She also stressed the importance of a conducive environment for women soldiers to execute their duties.
Peace and Security
Mapisa-Nqakula also spoke of the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in South Africa, which speaks to the importance of women’s equal participation and involvement in an effort to promote and maintain peace.
“It is envisaged that by early September 2019, the NAP should be endorsed by Cabinet and the official launch to take place before the end of September,” she said.
Recruiting women soldiers
Mapisa-Nqakula poured cold water on perceptions that it is difficult for women to join the SANDF.
“To be honest there are no impediments, you have to take a deliberate decision so the human recruitment division has to take a conscious decision that as you bring in young people, you bring in young women also. We have young women who have done extraordinarily, who have proven themselves to be equal to the task. The training is also the same between men and women,” she said in response to a question.
The Minister said women’s representation in the DOD has increased over the years reaching 31% for the first time in 2019.
“Today five out of the 38 Major Generals are women and 38 of the 163 Brigadier Generals are women,” she said.
South Africa dedicates the month of August to the commemoration of the march – on 9 August 1956 – by more than 20 000 women from all walks of life to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Marchers in 1956 demanded an end to Pass Laws which sought to control the movement of women around the country and regard women as property of the state.