JOHANNESBURG, 9 May 2005 (IRIN) - South Africa has, for the first time, deployed a company of reservists outside the country to replace members of the regular force on a peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Analysts say the move could help support the overstretched South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which has more than 2,000 troops deployed in the DRC and Burundi.
The reservists would "bolster the SANDF," said Sam Mkhwanazi, a spokesman for the ministry of defence.
As well as strengthening the SANDF, the reservists would also pump younger blood into the army, said Henry Boschoff, a military analyst with the Pretoria-based think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies, adding that "besides HIV/AIDS, a majority of the soldiers in the army are over age - they are not physically or medically fit."
The defence ministry has launched several initiatives based on international army recruitment practices to beef up the SANDF and the reserve force.
"Most defence forces have soldiers on contracts varying from three to 15 years," explained Brigadier-General Brian Burmeister, who heads the reserve force.
When the democratic dispensation took over in 1994, conscription was replaced by the voluntary service system, "which did not bring in the required numbers," said Burmeister. "Most of the older members of the reserve force hung up their uniforms."
The defence department annual report for 2003/04 commented that "The state of the Reserve Force as a whole is still a matter of concern, as the Conventional Reserve, despite the interventions ... is still not a combat-ready and deployable force".
About 18-months ago the SANDF launched an aggressive marketing plan to sell a five-year reserve force contract to the youth. Most of those who signed up were unemployed.
"We have 9,000 members in the reserve force, who receive military training and other skills which will assist them in getting placement after they leave the army," Burmeister explained.
The 155 reservists deployed to the DRC received additional training in peacekeeping and will serve in the mission for six months.
Another initiative - the military skills development system - offers a two-year contract to young recruits. At the end of the contract, which also provides skills and training, selected recruits have the option of joining the regular force, while the rest become part of the conventional reserve force.
The system was launched last year and is to recruit 3,000 people a year for two years.