defenceWeb – 21 May 2018
Opposition parties – the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) – both bemoaned the sorry state of affairs in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in reaction to Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s defence budget vote address.
FF+ leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald, said the lax and undisciplined command structure of the SANDF led directly to men and women in uniform generally being undisciplined.
As an example he pointed to recent events at the SA Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC) in Potchefstroom where 25 horses had to be put down.
“Members are not doing their jobs and just sit around waiting for month-end and pay. They did not even go to the trouble of checking whether all the horses were there and if they had sufficient feed,” he said.
DA shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais, was just as forthright.
“At this rate and with ongoing deterioration of discipline and an unwillingness to act decisively, it is not a matter of if but rather when we will have to close down our once proud SANDF, leaving our land and economy exposed.
“The chances of us progressing beyond Milestone One of the Defence Review are diminishing by the day, making the 2015 Defence Review irrelevant and unrealistic and there must be a revision,” he said in response to the Minister’s address in the National Assembly.
Marais added that “numerous calls” had not yet resulted in a restructuring of the SANDF, reprioritising strategies and spending or the crafting of an exit mechanism for excess staff.
“The average age of all Department of Defence (DoD) staff is close to 50 and for privates close to 32. This is not realistic, largely because of dependence on infantry units. It also creates the perception of the SANDF as an ‘old boys club’ and a provider of protected jobs for cronies,” Marais said.
He wants the SANDF to focus on land border patrol and protection, maritime patrol and supporting the oceans economy and on regional peacekeeping to secure political and economic stability.
Marais appealed to Mapisa-Nqakula to prioritise the national defence force’s interest over her political interests. This includes urgently restructuring the SANDF based on its current and foreseeable role, acquiring affordable aircraft for multipurpose transport uses, ensuring improved logistics for soldiers deployed on Operation Corona and in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as selling half the Gripen fleet and the VIP fleet.
Fund defence now or risk having to pay in casualties
Respected military analyst Helmoed Heitman is in agreement with Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, that the national defence budget should be mandate rather than numbers driven, but warns ominously “no-one will listen to her any more than they did to her predecessor and there’s a nasty surprise in waiting – one day the bill will have to be paid in casualties”.
As far as personnel levels of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) are concerned, Heitman maintains it is under-strength for what it is supposed to do.
“We must either drop regional missions – risky as the region is our potentially most profitable export market because South Africa is the closest manufacturing economy but only if it is peaceful and stable,” or prune joint support and overhead organisations in the SANDF drastically.
Heitman emphasises the fact that there are personnel “who continue to call themselves human resources, which explains why they care so little about people”.
“There is some fat in the SA Air Force (SAAF) and a little in the SA Navy, but none in the Army. In terms of overall numbers there is some over-ranking and there are areas that could be thinned out.”
On the Ministerial assertion that legacy and irreparable equipment and ammunition should be disposed of, Heitman maintains the South African military machine is “too quick to throw away so-called ‘old equipment’”.
He gives the example of 400 Ratels sold at “bargain basement prices”.
“For very little money they could have been converted to APCs, reducing the required number of new armoured personnel carriers to replace the long-gone Buffel and some older Casspirs. Had we kept some Eland 90s we would have had a combat vehicle even the C-130 could have deployed to Bangui or Goma”.
Heitman is unsure whether acquisition and delivery of the mobility packages for Operation Corona duties is a waste of money or not. Why not use Mambas currently in storage he asked, adding the issue of them not being suitable holds little water.
“They were used in this role previously and have the added advantage of being bullet-proof.”
Heitman welcomed the Minister’s call to prioritise acquisition of domain awareness system to deliver more effective operations saying “the smaller the actual force, the more important awareness becomes”.
On Operation Copper, the Mozambique Channel anti-piracy deployment, he said: “The argument that we should withdraw patrols because there is no piracy overlooks the possibility that perhaps there is no piracy because there is a patrol. It is also imperative to prevent locals on both coasts even thinking of piracy as a career. That would be extremely difficult to counter given the nature of the coastlines. There is also anecdotal evidence patrols dramatically reduce ordinary maritime crime, from illegal fishing to smuggling”.