I recall as a young officer how the subject of “Leadership” was always part of any military course curriculum. It was an aspect of military training that was given very serious attention. It later became a way of life to many young SADF officers and NCOs during combat operations where we were expected to lead 17- and 18-year olds into battle. We were expected to lead by example, never ask more of our men than we were capable of, always accept responsibility for the actions of our men and above all, make sure our planning would achieve the overall mission.
Along with our NCOs, we became the “father” and “mother” of all men under our command. We were expected to protect them at all costs and we often did – even when we knew our men were in the wrong. We supplemented our leadership with discipline and training – and leading from the front. When things went wrong, our men looked to us for guidance and their safety. When we were in the wrong, we were hauled over the coals by our company or battalion commanders – a most unpleasant experience.
This approach to leading men was something that was entrenched into us, assisted sometimes with a good kick up the backside. It could be found from platoon- to battalion level and within combat teams and battle groups. It was very evident at small-team level and during covert operations. It was also occasionally found at theatre-level. But sadly, it ended there as many of us were to realise.
Although it can be argued that the South African political leadership - prior 1994 - was to some extent coerced by foreign pressure into the actions it took, they also prepared themselves to jump ship with alacrity. Thus, I can only suspect that they also suffered a serious lack of moral fibre. Added to this wide streak of yellow was a distinct lack of a grand strategy – and the desire of some of the politicians to rather see themselves as soldiers, despite the fact that their military experience was, in one instance, limited to singing in a choir.
The fact is that South Africa needed to change its internal policies – many in the military agreed with that. What we did not agree with was the wholesale betrayal and lack of leadership displayed by politicians and generals alike. Whereas some politicians wanted to be generals and tried to dictate military strategy, the converse was also very evident. Some generals wanted to be politicians and in the process were prepared to ignore their military duties and ingratiate themselves with the politicians. This sad state of affairs removed any chance of the military remaining apolitical in terms of the government and the citizens of South Africa, regardless of their political persuasion.
The Chief of the South African Army, Genl Solly Shoke recently admitted in a press conference (13 Feb 2009) that the Army had made some serious mistakes with regard to training. He also expressed his concern at the lack of discipline in the Army. But these problems lie not with the soldiers – they lie with the leaders of the Army, including Genl Shoke himself. The soldiers can only be as good as their leaders. It is one thing to blame soldiers for their poor discipline and lack of training but where did the problem start? And what did their leaders do to rectify these problems?
This sad state of affairs has, furthermore, manifested itself as a breakdown of command and control. Recently, the Pretoria High Court, in an unprecedented judgement, ordered the SANDF to do its job properly. (http://jv.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2476192,00.html) Actions such as these are cause for extreme concern and ought to immediately rectified.
But, from where I am sitting, I see this as a problem not only confined to South Africa or Africa.
The West is currently going through a rather serious crisis. The results of Global War on Terror (GWOT), coupled to the global economic meltdown will, despite what many say, be felt for years to come. It is especially in times such as these that politicians need to show leadership. It, however, appears to me as though the Western democracies are lacking in courage, direction and leadership. This has led to a floundering of foreign policy and a lack of strategic direction.
The division and disarray that exists at the political level seems to be permeating through to the military level. Adding further confusion is the desire of politicians, once they have committed the armed forces, to interfere in military strategies and the execution of tactics. But soldiers need effective leadership, discipline, training and above all, the support of their political masters. When this support is lacking, leadership becomes feeble and problematic.
In a world where foreign policies are based on appeasement and accommodation and the exploitation of emotions, the development of guilt among the strong, and a hatred for political systems, it is to be expected that the military will become part of this policy.
When a lack of political courage, direction and leadership manifests itself, its effects are dramatic on the military. Military leadership then becomes a system that follows its own appeasement and accommodation – the results of which could be disastrous.