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Zuma sees Simon’s Town becoming “government garage” for ships

Zuma speaks on Simons Town dockyard.President Jacob Zuma cemented part of the Defence Review during his State of the National Address when he pointed out the SA Navy was a participant in the Phakisa project and will partner in a “government garage” concept that would see maintenance and repairs of government-owned vessels done at Simon’s Town.

This would happen as part of what the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief said was “a newly established SA Navy/Armscor/Denel partnership” when he address the National Assembly on Thursday.

Armscor General Manager: Marketing And Business Development, Lulu Mzili, confirmed the partnership was part of implementation of recommendations contained in the Defence Review.

“Armscor will be the contracting agent; the Navy will be the custodian of the dockyard, a national asset; and Denel will run operations,” she said.

Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said it made “absolute sense” to support all government-owned ships at Simon’s Town.

“That’s making efficient use of an existing facility and the additional throughput of work will also improve the capabilities and efficiency of the Naval dockyard,” he said, adding the President’s use of the “government garage” term “suggests rather more, that the Navy would be the future owner of all government ships, tasking them on behalf of other departments.

“I, however, doubt that is what he meant.”

A retired senior SA Navy officer said this was not the first time the possibility of the Simon’s Town facility being used for maintenance and repair of all government had been raised.

“The most recent was when the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries fleet was handed to the SA Navy in 2012. That ended with the Navy doing repair work and not being able to put the vessels to sea for patrol purposes. As far back as the late eighties there were also talks to centralise maintenance and repair work on all government-owned vessels at Simon’s town. Those efforts came to naught because the various departments involved could not agree, it was what the Americans would call ‘a turf war’.”

Both he and Heitman expressed concern at the involvement of Chinese company Poly Technologies with Denel in the management and running of the dockyard.

This comes after Denel and Poly Technologies signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join forces in SA’s maritime rejuvenation in September 2016, with Poly Technologies aiming to take a stake in the Simons Town shipyard and join Denel in constructing three naval vessels should it win a share of Project Biro for new inshore and offshore patrol vessels.

Poly Technologies is likely to make an investment in the recapitalization of the Simons Town dockyard as part of its management takeover by Denel Integrated Systems and Maritime (Denel ISM).

“It’s not a good idea to establish Chinese interests in the dockyard. That would make the SA Navy the only navy in the world I can think of that has foreign management of its dockyard. Given Denel does not have the expertise I would expect Chinese management,” Heitman said, adding the example of South Africa taking 50 years to get the British out of Simon’s Town and “now we deliberately invite a new imperialist power”.

“There seems to be no logic to this, particularly as there are South African companies with ship repair expertise who could have been drawn in as partners.”
 

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