On face value, they are polar opposites: a professional soldier and a distinguished academic; the general and the professor. But in reality, both men are employees of the government and have a similar goal: to ensure students at the Military Academy in Saldanha are trained properly.
Their challenging task is to continue the Academy’s success story of the past 60 years, which started with a Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Defence and the Faculty of Military Science at Stellenbosch University.
The newly appointed commandant of the Academy, Brig-Gen Gerald Pharo, took over the reins from Maj-Gen Lawrence Mbatha on 24 January 2018. Pharo’s office is next to that of Prof Samuel Tshehla, Dean of the Faculty of Military Science. The commandant of the Academy has the task to manage all military regimental aspects and overall functioning of the Academy, while supporting the academic function of the unit. The Dean’s obligations are to manage the academic affairs and ensure academic quality within the Faculty of Military Science.
“There is a good working relationship between the Military Academy and SU. What most people should remember is that SU and the Academy are by nature government organisations and both of us are government employees, but in different environments. The good relationship between the Department of Defence and SU is the mutual understanding and the fact that we share a vision that all officers of the future should be properly trained and well equipped for the challenges of the future. We share the same sentiments, vision and responsibilities,” says Pharo.
He is excited to have been appointed the commandant of the Military Academy. “The Academy is one of the flagship units and is intended to train young officers for future utilisation in the Department of Defence. The training ensures that they are properly educated, empowered and equipped to solve problems in future,” Pharo adds.
Then he shares his message for students: “I would like to remind them that they are serving members of the Department of Defence. As part of their service, they have been afforded an opportunity to study at the Military Academy. They should make the most of this, because it is an opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime, and there are hundreds of other members that would appreciate getting the same opportunity.”
Tshehla agrees, and says that students should grab this opportunity with both hands. “The State has sent them, paid for them and they are studying and earning a salary. It is also important to convey to other school-leavers that they could consider the Defence Force as a career. There are so many opportunities and choices of fields.”
Tshehla and Pharo are well aware of the high demands set on students at the Academy, especially in their first year, both from the academic and military sides. “We have fulltime students, both men and women in uniform. The military side requires them to be fit, while the academic side requires them to attend classes. There is a lot of pressure on the students and they need to balance their activities,” said Tshehla.
Should the Office of the Commandant and the Office of the Dean ever be at loggerheads, they find a way to ensure a balance between academic classes and military training.
Pharo shares his vision: “We need to build the Academy into a flagship that will be a competitive Military Academy, not only in Africa but internationally.”
Echoing Pharo’s sentiments, Tshehla says: “We want be the leader in professional military higher education and deliver thought leaders in military science. Ten years from now, before I retire as Dean, I would like the Academy to have 1 000 students.”
Here is the story of Gen Pharo and Prof Tshehla