Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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Editor Column

SANDF personnel numbers – time for action!

Last week’s parade in Simon’s Town, where close on 200 medals were presented for long service in the national defence force, is one of a number of similar parades to be held nationally until year-end.

While it has long been military tradition to recognise long and loyal service – and defenceWeb is not for a minute suggesting it be stopped – the current personnel situation of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) makes the medal parades part of a Catch 22 that senior defence and military management either cannot or are unwilling to find a solution to.

On one hand there seems to be general, excuse the pun, consensus the SANDF should be subjected to a rigorous round of retrenchment. Benefits would be a younger defence force that would take up less of the existing, and shrinking, defence budget.

On the other hand it appears the powers-that-be have not put in place exit mechanisms for those wanting, or having, to leave the uniformed civil service. This could see the ranks of the unemployed – already perilously high – swell even further and this is not wanted.

As the scenario stands, top management including Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, are going to have to put on their thinking caps speedily because the longer the delay the worse the problem becomes of older soldiers with no even remotely basic future in Civvy Street.

Suggestions have been made to use recently retired soldiers as the base of a corps to handle sentry and guard duties at military facilities and installations and possibly even national key points. This suggestion has merit and deserves investigation and implementation at the earliest possible opportunity.

It will remove the “rent-a-cop” security presently at the Armscor building which also houses Defence HQ.

Personal experience of no less than four checkpoints on the way in with surly “guards” doing their own impressions of the intimidatory stare before being allowed further. Then, on the way out, gates are opened without any checks and at one checkpoint, no guard in evidence, only a raised boom.

Older soldiers trained and presentable in military uniform – not camouflage, but the smarter step-outs - would be a far better option. Retired SA Air Force Chief, Denis Earp, once told this writer “if someone has to do guard or sentry duty, do it properly or not at all”.

His sentiment still rings true.


Defence budget allocation - will the DoD/National Treasury task team make a difference?

Over the past few years a number of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) service chiefs have pointedly warned of the dangers to come with constant under-funding of the military.

Another voice has been added to this choir – that of the South African defence industry. In a draft document currently circulating for comment, the National Defence industry Council (NDIC) refers to “a disconnect” between funding and needs. It cites, only for the landward service, a lack of close-in anti-tank/bunker weapons, air defence systems, air transportable combat and logistic vehicles and logistic vehicles, as examples of what is urgently needed if the SA Army is to execute the tasks assigned it properly.

When it comes to the airborne and maritime services the phrases used are “no serious maritime capacity”, “a lack of adequate numbers of ships to meet current and envisioned commitments” and “a lack of sealift”.

The SA Navy (SAN) is at least attempting to obtain more hulls, in the form of both inshore and offshore patrol vessels and a new hydrographic vessel but the SA Air Force (SAAF) does not appear to be making headway on replacements for its ageing airlift and maritime surveillance airframes.

Armscor last month confirmed it had received a “user requirement from the client [the SAAF]” to look further into acquiring an aircraft to replace the Falcon 900B used by 21 Squadron for VVIP transport. The defence and security acquisition agency also confirmed to defenceWeb that no user requirements had been received from the SAAF for either airlift or maritime patrol aircraft.

The C-130BZs used by 28 Squadron have passed the 50 years in service mark and the C-47TPs, although upgraded, have been flying for 20 years more than that. The use of old aircraft is not new in the world’s air forces, but the South African examples prompted Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to say she was not happy about “our people flying in such old aircraft”. She was speaking after a 35 Squadron C-47TP crashed in the Drakensberg in October 2013.

Surely the Minister must know the need for new airlift and maritime patrol platforms is essential, given continental peace support commitments and the maritime resource protection part of Operation Phakisa. Why then, does not she appear to be doing anything concrete towards supporting these acquisitions? Or is she, as has been suggested, going with the flow and happy to allow National Treasury to be the decider of who gets what rather than disbursing funds according to properly motivated needs?

The Minister has also been quiet on the 2012 (and subsequently renamed to 2014 and 2015) Defence Review, which appears to have fallen by the wayside. As a funding plan was not included with the Defence Review, it remains a paper document seeing little implementation and there is little mention of it at Ministerial level.

DoD and SANDF must educate to get Parliament thinking defence

When delivering her budget vote in the National Assembly late last month, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula asked for Parliament’s support when it came to National Treasury giving the South African military more money to be able to properly do the work asked of it.

She was speaking specifically about the border safeguarding tasking Operation Corona, saying the required number of companies “must increase” from 15 to 22 to make South Africa’s borders more secure.

“This is impeded by continuous reductions in the defence budget. We need the support of Parliament to deal with this,” she told MPs.

By its very nature, defence is not a people-, voter- or elected official-friendly part of national expenditure where more – and louder – demands are placed on social services such as health and education with infrastructure and developmental projects also getting larger slices of the national fiscal pie. This is not confined to Parliament of post-1994 South Africa. The previous government, even with its militaristic and securocratic approach, had to put up with MPs who had limited, little and even no knowledge of matters military. The difference then, obviously, was the securocrats were the majority.

Surely the appeal by the Minister must open the door for people in her ministry, the Department of Defence and the SA National Defence Force to engage forthrightly with “elected” MPs. They should be given insight into the men and women in uniform and know there are four different arms of service – not just “the army” as the national defence force is often called. Also, and this example, comes from a retired SA Army officer, please tell – and show – MPs an R5 and a G5 so they know the difference!

But it appears the MP education option is not one that features on the priority list of the SANDF.

Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, SANDF Director: Corporate Communication, told defenceWeb “Parliamentary questions are received periodically therefore the SANDF does not have permanent Parliamentary liaison structures”.

Siphiwe Dlamini, Head of Communication for the Department of Defence (DoD), had not responded to questions asked seven days before publication of this piece. defenceWeb asked him if the DoD has personnel in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces and what their duties are.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s appeal to MPs for help will largely fall on deaf ears unless she takes it on herself to either educate them or deploy officers with the requisite knowledge to do so. If nothing is done, she cannot expect to be on the receiving end of more largesse from National Treasury, the establishment of an inter-departmental team where both the DoD and Treasury will take further her assertion that defence will no longer be seen “as any other government department”, notwithstanding.

Sad SAAF Museum media briefing another example of poor communication

The SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum is without doubt the most publicly visible component of the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and it has again shot itself in the proverbial foot just days before its main annual fundraiser.

A media briefing on the Museum airshow which takes place on Saturday (May 6), with pride of place going to recently named new officer commanding Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Bruintjies, had to go ahead, 30 minutes late, without him as he was needed elsewhere for “urgent business”.

Much of the subsequent briefing was spent trying to address journalists’ and exhibitors’ concerns over parking as well as the lengthy registration and accreditation process for media, exhibitors and even SANDF members. It was explained that because of people illegally wearing SANDF uniforms, all military personnel have to be accredited.

Given that he is the new man in charge of an asset the SAAF Command Council doesn’t appear to realise the importance of, he had an opportunity to expound the values of the museum, including its revamped displays. By all accounts, these are a major improvement and should be widely publicised to attract as many visitors as possible.

This publication has been trying unsuccessfully - since January - to visit the museum OC at the SAAF’s oldest base and has yet to be told it will happen.

By all accounts this year’s airshow will pass muster but the necessary pizzazz that former officers commanding brought to the event is noticeably – and sadly – lacking.

Bruintjies’ predecessor was a low-profile officer who seldom, if ever, interacted with the media. This is in complete contrast to lieutenant colonels Mike O’Connor and Willie Nel. That they wholeheartedly took on the task of “selling” the SAAF Museum to the wider South African public is evidenced by numerous airshow of the year awards as well as attendance figures of around seventy thousand for the annual Museum airshow.

Sadly, the SAAF has gone from being the Pride of the Nation to an arm of service seemingly content to communicate the absolute minimum when it should be doing the opposite.

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