What kind of defence force should South Africa have and what can it afford?

What kind of defence force should South Africa have and what can it afford?


On Tuesday May 18, I presented the defence budget to Parliament, under the theme of “Defence in an era of the pandemic”. This budget vote speech provides me with the opportunity to share some critical aspects on where we find ourselves in our quest to defend and protect South Africa and her people.

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the future security landscape in the SADC with its negative impact on human security, economic growth, trade and development. We are concerned by security developments in the region, in particular the upsurge of insurgency which potentially can spill over the entire region.

At the end of last month, as we bid farewell to General Solly Shoke, the longest serving chief of the SANDF in the history of South Africa’s armed forces. We owe him our profound gratitude. He will be replaced by General Rudzani Maphwanya from June 1, who will be supported by a number of new appointments including Lieutenant General Thalita Mxakato, the first woman to be promoted to the rank in South African history. She takes over as chief of defence intelligence next month and becomes the first female member of the military command council.

We are more aware than any of the severely constrained fiscus, but as I informed the House this week, the reduction of more than R15 billion over the MTEF has placed us in a very difficult position. Our capital budget has been reduced to a trickle and the operating budget is under extreme pressure. We are finding it very difficult to improve the serviceability of our Prime Mission Equipment. The reduction to our allocation has a devastating impact, not only on the SANDF, but also our defence industry and defence-related industry and the many SMMEs in the supply chain.

If we do not decisively intervene, we will lose our state-owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of our defence systems. This not only compromises our ability to maintain our equipment in service, but also impacts our longer-term ability to remain relevant and ready to conduct effective operations. Should this happen, we may well find ourselves reliant on foreign powers for our main equipment and this will come at great strategic expense.

Our capabilities are under extreme stress. Our ability to equip and train our force appropriately has become progressively more difficult. The current threats require more “boots on the ground“, which is contrary to the imposed funding ceiling on personnel. In addition, the ability to maintain main equipment for operations has declined to the point where we need to ask if it is viable to continue to throw resources at them. This coupled with the demise of the defence industry, in particular Denel, has placed us in a very precarious position.

Our maritime defence is in the same situation. While we commend Armscor’s efforts to turnaround the dockyard, we are nonetheless finding it difficult to maintain our fleet against the float, sail and fight concept of combat readiness. We can report that the Multi-Mission Inshore Patrol Vessel, part of Project BIRO, is progressing under a partial acquisition. The vessels will improve our ability to protect our maritime resources and our territorial waters.

The ability of our Military Health Capability to meet its mandate is severely strained. The health support to our deployed troops and their families, which is core to maintaining combat-ready personnel, as well as the support to our military veterans is increasingly becoming limited due to outdated and obsolete equipment and the loss of medical professionals, resulting in the scaling down of certain medical services and outsourcing of others at great expense.

We are continuing to be forced to adopt a short-term view. The SANDF, will have to rebalance its military capabilities towards a future force that has a wide range of utility. This must ensure future relevance and the ability to sustainably execute selected priority missions, perform its core-mandated functions and provide value to South Africa as a developmental state. However, this does not come without significant risk.

Against the realities and in line with the principles and recommendations contained in the South African Defence Review 2015, I have issued a directive to the Department to effect cost savings in our personnel. Measures are to be put in place that will ensure the rejuvenation of the SANDF as we accommodate the voluntary separation of members and focus on attracting young, fit and healthy men and women with a passion for soldiering and service.

I have tasked Ambassador Gladys Sonto Kudjoe, the secretary of defence (SecDef), to strengthen governance of the department and civil control over the SANDF. I have requested her to develop a departmental policy position based on the realities of our funding challenges and the emerging real and tangible threats to national security. I have also requested that we look at the defence systems and capabilities that will have to be decommissioned in achieving defence efficiency and the estimated risk attached to that.

I have asked the SANDF chief to finalise the Blue Print Force Design. The SANDF command and staff structure will have to change if we are to ensure improved efficiency and effectiveness in the future. Finally, I have requested the chief executive of Armscor to collaborate with the chief and SecDef to develop a pragmatic recommendation on how to modernise the SANDF under the current fiscal and industry constraints.

The SANDF has been progressively asked to do more for less for several years. The past year, however, was unprecedented. Throughout it all, the SANDF has continued to fulfil its constitutional mandate to defend the land, sea and air sovereignty of South Africa, aiding law enforcement agencies in their fight against cross-border crime and internal security challenges, as well as fulfilling the country's global responsibilities to peace keeping in the largest UN mission in the world. We continue to conduct search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian operations across the home-front and in neighbouring countries when called upon.

We have continued to support efforts to alleviate poverty and stimulate economic growth through Operation Phakisa towards unlocking the Ocean’s Economy and we have expanded Project KOBA-TLALA, the local procurement of goods and services, to be a catalyst for SMME, small-scale and emerging farmer development and job creation. We continue to support the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the National Parks Board by protecting South Africa’s wildlife and marine resources.

But the question remains: What kind of defence force should South Africa have and what can it afford? I believe we need a defence force that can influence widely, react swiftly, contain effectively and support efficiently wherever it is deployed. But that costs money. We are doing what we can to meet all the challenges that have been given to us – we need South Africa to meet us halfway and give us at least the bare minimum of what we need.

* Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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