There are very serious and severely damaging allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse against SANDF soldiers participating in cross-border missions. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
We may have a multitude of other problems on our hands, but South Africans can thank their lucky stars we’re not at war with anyone.

Our army doesn’t go around invading other countries to the north like the former SADF did to keep apartheid alive.

In fact, the role of post-apartheid troops beyond our borders is limited largely to participating in UN peacekeeping missions, and when members of the force are involved in election security when needed.

But if all that is so, why do our soldiers have such a stinking reputation in the eyes of the United Nations?

Well, simply put, many of our testosterone-charged soldiers seem to think joining the army and donning a uniform is an invitation to a cross-border sex romp.

If they’re not sexually harassing and abusing women on these missions, their predilection for fathering children on foreign soil is becoming a king-sized headache for army authorities.

Worse still are concerns about a lack of discipline within the force which has the potential of tarnishing the image of the entire SANDF internationally.

These are very serious and severely damaging allegations, and they come straight from the horse’s mouth - no less an authority than the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

When she addressed a panel of high-ranking army officials in Pretoria last week, the minister certainly did not mince her words.

She revealed that one of her biggest headaches was having to deal with what she called that “dreaded three-letter word”, SEA, which stands for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

Over a period of time, she had become aware of “rampant” cases of sexual harassment and abuse, both internally in deployment areas as well as in the working environment.

We remain rated by the UN as among the highest of Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) in mission areas.

And as if that alone is not embarrassing enough, our troops are also ranked among the highest among those facing paternity claims for making babies while on UN missions.

But, says Mapisa-Nqakula, enough is enough.

She is so fed up that this ugly scourge of sexual abuse and lack of discipline appears to be taking place right under the noses of some of our army commanders that she’s decided to institute an investigation to be conducted by external role players.

Hear, hear, we say. And about time too.

When a defence minister admits she no longer has the confidence of her generals and flag officers to provide her with satisfactory reports on what’s happening on the ground, something is radically wrong in the force.

It’s just a few rotten eggs who are giving our defence force a tardy reputation. The majority are disciplined and law-abiding soldiers who are committed to their task.

If we hope to work with other African countries to unpack the continent’s investment opportunities, our soldiers need to be told to zip up and behave when on cross-border missions.