Women take command

ANYONE who has seen Sergeant Mphai Sophia Gwebu in action would not dare call her meek.

ANYONE who has seen Sergeant Mphai Sophia Gwebu in action would not dare call her meek.

Gwebu, 29, commands a team of 15 troops whose weapons strike fear into the enemy and bring destruction to their unfortunate targets.

As a gun sergeant major in the South African army, Gwebu is in charge of heavy artillery but she scoffs at the belief that her job is dangerous.

"If it's your day to die, then you will die," she said.

The petite mother of two joined the South African National Defence Force in 1999 after matriculating, becoming the first in her family to do so.

"I thought it would be interesting and I am always up for a challenge," she said.

After months of gruelling training, she ventured into "core artillery".

The group of about 25 women became the first to enlist in the regiment.

"It was exciting, though I was worried that I was not going to make it because women were not doing it at the time," she said. Gwebu is qualified to command multiple rocket launchers. She also trains recent recruits to the infantry such as gunner Philgret Phillips.

Nineteen-year-old Phillips also joined the army last year after matriculating. She said the training has made her stronger both physically and mentally. "There were times when I felt like giving up but now I enjoy it," Phillips said.

Gwebu and Phillips were among troops who demonstrated their agility and skill at a combat training camp in the Northern Cape recently as part of Exercise Seboka.

The exercise is held yearly by the SANDF to demonstrate its readiness for battle.

This year's exercise lasted a month, starting on November 9, and will be completed tomorrow.

During the exercise, the training camp was transformed into a battleground. Piercing sounds of gunfire and explosions shook the arid landscape of the third-biggest training camp in the world.