CAPE TOWN - Racial representivity in the defence force has changed so dramatically that almost all privates are black and the military is having difficulty recruiting young people from minority groups.

This means in its lower ranks, the South African National Defence Force has been transformed since 1994 from a white-dominated to a black-dominated organisation.

It has also emerged that whites in middle-management positions in the defence force continue to leave in large numbers, raising concerns about the loss of essential skills from the SANDF.

Gen Andries de Wit, briefing Parliament's defence committee yesterday, said 96% of all privates were black, with 3,2% white and 0,8% comprising other minority groups. The target for the military was 76% black and 24% white.

He said that one of the main challenges of the Military Skills Development System was that it "remains difficult to attract youth from minority population groups and university graduates".

He also explained that there were two methods by which soldiers could leave the defence force voluntarily - the Mobility Exit Mechanism and the Employee Initiated Severance Package - and it was predominantly white members who had used these exit mechanisms.

Gen de Wit said that since the introduction of exit mechanism five years ago, 3718 SANDF members had used it to leave the military. Of these 2496 were white, 856 were black, 306 coloured and 70 Indian.

In the four years of the severance package, 530 SANDF members had taken voluntary packages and 368 of them were white.

He said that steady progress was being made on stated objectives such as representivity and the age profiles of soldiers through the use of the Mobility Exit Mechanism.

He said 36% of all exits were of white males in relatively senior ranks, between warrant officers and colonels, and that 67% of all exits were of white males.

Gen de Wit said the issue was not about chasing whites out of the defence force, but was a correction of the imbalances of the past.

He stressed that when members with scarce skills asked for an exit, their request could be refused by the defence department.

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za