Monday, December 10, 2018
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Is Armed Forces Day a spectacular waste of resources?

The upcoming Armed Forces Day celebrations on 21 February in Durban will no doubt be spectacular and are a good way of showing off the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to the public, inspiring confidence and pride in southern Africa’s strongest military.

There is a perception amongst many South Africans that spending on the military is unnecessary considering all the other challenges the country is facing. During Armed Forces week in Durban, interacting with the public, giving advice on careers and showcasing equipment used in peacekeeping and border patrol missions will give South Africans a better understanding of what the SANDF does and how it works for the peace, stability and economic prosperity of South Africa.

Armed Forces Day is also a chance to show off the might of the SANDF and create the impression of a strong and capable military. 21 February is also an opportunity to honour fallen soldiers, especially those who died in the sinking of the SS Mendi troopship in 1917. The lives of soldiers lost in the intervening century can also be commemorated.

However, some have criticised Armed Forces Day as being one of President and Commander-in-Chief Jacob Zuma’s vanity projects and such extravagant displays of military prowess are going to cost the SANDF a huge amount of money. Indications are that over 4 000 soldiers have been deployed to Durban along with over 400 vehicles and half a dozen ships. Based on the experience of Armed Forces Day 2016 in Port Elizabeth, dozens of aircraft will also participate – Gripens, Hawks, Oryx, A109s, Rooivalk, C-47s, C-130s and Caravans, amongst others.

When one considers that it cost over R100 000 an hour to fly a Gripen and Hawk, and hundreds of thousands of rands more to get ships and submarines off the coast, the bill from Armed Forces Day is going to be tens of millions of rands.

It can be argued that a lot of the budget spent on Armed Forces Day can be written off to training – the capability demonstrations are indeed good practice for the SANDF, and Air Force pilots and Navy sailors will relish being able to stretch the legs of their equipment.

However, as beneficial as such training and experience is, the SANDF is urgently needed elsewhere. Securing South Africa’s borders is a task that largely falls to the South African Army, while patrolling our coastline is largely the job of the SA Navy. The SAAF, meanwhile, is occupied with transporting troops and equipment to deployed forces locally and internationally (to places like the DRC for peacekeeping support) and fighting fires, amongst other tasks such as search and rescue.

In light of increasing budget cuts, the SANDF needs to be very careful with the limited resources it does have. While Armed Forces Day has its merits, the money and effort can be much better spent on thinly stretched operational deployments.

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