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Military workers tells of working in the defence force

Published May 22, 2022


Durban - WHAT was it like being away from families and loved ones for prolonged periods to work in regions that have been struck by disaster? Those working in the army would know.

They were the ones deployed by the government to assist in situations where the local government was overwhelmed.

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They have been in KwaZulu-Natal since April 12, when the floods ravaged the province, killing more than 400 people.

Known as “Operation Chariot” of the SANDF, the troops were part of the force’s domestic operations, which dealt with disaster relief and assistance.

The Sunday Tribune spoke to three military workers about their experiences in the army. LIEUTENANT-Colonel Daniel de Kock, 48, has served the SANDF for more than 29 years.

South Africa - KwaZulu-Natal - Durban, .14/05/2022. SANDF Medical team is Captain Nkululeko Ndwandwe, Lt Busisiwe Luthuli, Dr Chiara Indurjith and Lt Joe Nxumalo at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA)

De Kock was an infantry formation officer in command at an infantry battalion – a mechanised infantry unit of the South African Army. De Kock, who was part of Operation Chariot, grew up in Oudtshoorn, located between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains to the south.

He joined the military straight out of high school at a time when military service was compulsory.

“In those days I was a conscript and did my national service in the old South Africa – which was for one year,” said De Kock. But when that year ended, De Kock enjoyed the experience so much that he signed up to stay on. “I realised then that it was a calling. I’m happy.

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I enjoy what I do. “It’s an honour serving my troops and serving the different communities, where we actually have some input. I enjoy helping people,” said De Kock. He spent most of his army years in Bloemfontein, where his family live, but he was recently transferred to Mthatha.

With all the moving around, De Kock admitted it was challenging but, like any good soldier, he has learned to adapt.

“My family is in Bloemfontein, but I keep in touch daily. “Being away from home is a huge sacrifice. I’ve been married for 21 years, with two children, and you miss them growing up.

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“You miss a lot, but it’s a sacrifice for the country. “The satisfaction that I get from doing what I’m doing keeps me going,” he said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel De Kock says the military is his life. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA)

He advised those who wanted to join the SANDF to do so for the right reasons and to be aware that it was not glamorous. “It’s not like what you watch in the movies – you are going to endure hardship, but you do make lots of friends,” he said.

“Family is not always by blood or by surname, it’s by the work that we do. “You make contacts that you will have for life,” said De Kock. “I was sent here for a reason – nothing will happen that wasn’t meant to happen.

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“Do what you can and as good as you can. “That’s my motto in life and something I always live by,” De Kock said. MAJOR Nokwazi Msweli, 32, a transport pilot in the South African Air Force, joined the air force in 2011.

Msweli flies the Cessna Caravan light transport aircraft which can carry 10 people. They assist anywhere they could – as they did with some of the flooding operations.

Msweli has served her country for the past 11 years. Born in Empangeni, she moved to Dundee and said she loved aviation for a while, but growing up she didn’t have all the information she needed to jump straight into aviation. “After matric I took a gap year, then enrolled for an electrical engineering course,” she said.

“It was okay, but I realised that was not my passion. In 2010, I underwent selection for the air force, which I officially joined in 2011. “Our initial training took place in Limpopo,” said Msweli.

She is based at Pretoria Air Force Base Waterkloof under 41 squadron. What Msweli loves about flying is being able to keep the aircraft in the air for as long as possible. “It’s a very interesting concept to me.

It’s literally a culture shock being here,” she said. When not flying, Msweli is the aviation safety officer in her unit. “I make sure that flights are carried out in a safe manner and that no one’s life is put at risk unnecessarily.

“I report for work at 7am, attend to paperwork, identify hazards and people report accidents or incidents to me. “I process them and then report to our HQ (headquarters), which in turn publishes these to make everyone aware in the air force of what is going on,” she said.

Msweli said she enjoyed their weekly sports day, which is held on Wednesdays between noon and 1pm. “You join whatever sport you want to join within the defence force and if it’s not available, like swimming, then you can go do it on the outside but you just make sure that your supervisor knows where you are. “After that, you shower and get back to work,” she said.

Msweli said the hardest thing in the beginning was to leave her family behind and to join an organisation she didn’t know much about. “Especially because our initial training was in Limpopo. That was a big change, leaving my family, especially my mother. I was very young at the time, but what keeps me going is the commitment I’ve made and that makes me want to do my job with the challenges it may come with,” she said.

South Africa - KwaZulu-Natal - Durban, .14/05/2022. Officer Dr Chiara Indurjith of the SANDF Medical at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA)

She said keeping a positive attitude was important because they were constantly preparing for a war they didn’t know if they would ever fight. She said they spent a lot of time preparing to respond to situations such as floods and other disasters.

“We just make sure that the people we cater to know what to expect from us. You prepare for the time that you’ll be needed,” said Msweli. CANDIDATE Officer Dr Chiara Indurjith, 27, who serves as a doctor in the Military Health Services branch of the SANDF, was born in Phoenix.

She started basic military training in Lephalale in Limpopo in 2013 and while there was able to pursue medical studies at the University of Pretoria through the SANDF. Indurjith comes from a family of military workers. “My dad (S Indurjith) was the KZN regional sergeant-major until he passed away eight years ago. His family members were also in the military.

“Apart from that, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I was more interested in things like ‘Doctors without Borders’ and going to war-torn areas and such, to help people that really needed services there, Indurjith said. “That was one of the moves that pulled me to study and to join the defence force.” Indurjith said the experience gained from the military was one of its kind and doubted she would get that elsewhere in the world.

The experience of working with the flood disaster has stuck with me so much and showed me such different aspects of life. “The bonds that you also create with other people in the military create a rare and special bond,” said Indurjith. She said when she was in the field, she always tried to put herself in the shoes of the people needing help.

South Africa - KwaZulu-Natal - Durban, .13/05/2022. SA Air Force pilot at Virginia Airport. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA)

“That way I’m able to assist in the best way possible because I would think how I would want to be treated if this was me right now in this situation.” She said although there were challenges, she tried to remain positive. “Speaking to my mom and sister always settles me.

“I’m a very connected person and we’re a very close-knit family. “I phone at least once a day to speak to my mom and grandmother. “They are very supportive, so that helps a lot,” said Indurjith.