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First Indian woman chaplain for South African army

world Updated: Jan 23, 2009 11:42 IST
Highlight Story

Caroline Pillay has made history by becoming the first South African of Indian descent to serve as a chaplain in the army.

Pillay was among 275 volunteer recruits who started an intensive training course this week at the air force gymnasium in Pretoria before they serve for two years in the army.

Undeterred by the fact that at 39 she was almost twice as old as most of the other recruits, Pillay said she was looking forward to stamping her feet even at her "mature" age, confirming that she was fit, healthy and ready to tackle the course.

"The young ones will need my advice and guidance during the basic training and I will probably need their physical assistance," the delicately-built Pillay quipped as she explained that she would be looking after the spiritual needs of the soldiers at 5 SA Infantry Battalion in the town of Ladysmith.

Pillay has a masters degree in theology and hails from a Baptist clerical family in Durban dominated by males, which increased her determination to serve as a chaplain.

Defence Minister Charles Nqakula was pleased that Pillay and seven other South African Indian women were among the 79 women volunteer recruits who were joining 5363 men of all races.

Until now, Indian women had largely shunned the military.

"You are truly representative of our society," Nqakula told the recruits.