Attrition: Surprising Sailor Shortage in South Africa


January 29, 2006: The South African Navy is having a serious manpower crisis. The senior ranks are still heavily white, and there are few educated black South Africans who want to serve in the Navy. In addition, there's a problem finding qualified men, of any race, to serve in enlisted ranks. Once again, most black men don't think of the Navy when they think of military service, while most white guys don't want to enlist, because of racial and status issues. Even among many young whites, the thought of taking orders from a black petty officer rankles. There is some substance to this, as affirmative action has been used in the military, especially with former rebels who were integrated into the armed forces after the first free elections back in the 1990s. While most of these old "comrades" are retired by now, there is still the perception in the white community that promotions are made more on the basis of race than ability. This is more true in the army than the navy, where there is a big chance of getting hurt or killed if you don't know your way around dangerous machinery. That keeps the promotions honest, but many potential recruits don't believe it. Perceptions are having an impact. So the navy is getting lots of new ships that will not have enough sailors to operate them properly. This will mean a lot of these new ships will spend most of their time tied up in port.


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