Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Editor Column

Is the Defence Review dead?

The South African Defence Review appears to be dead and buried, with the latest information from the Department of Defence indicating the Review is unachievable due to the lack of defence funding.


Real action needed or the SANDF might just as well shut up shop

“The over-riding impression I have of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is that it’s marking time,” was the comment of an Addis Ababa-based defence attaché when he made one of his periodic visits to South Africa just on two years ago.

“Marking time” has been replaced by “halt”, with the Department of Defence now admitting that even the first milestone set by Roelf Meyer and the team which helped him research and compile the Defence Review back in 2012 is unreachable.

There has to be a major mindset change if the “halt” is not to be followed by a “parade dismissed” command.

Service chiefs have been warning of the impact of an ever-diminishing defence budget for at least the past five years. SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke just doesn’t answer questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of the South African military posed in the few public forums he attends. His standard response goes along the line of “I’m just a soldier and I follow orders”.

This is not good enough!

He as well as the two top civilians in the Department of Defence hierarchy – Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Secretary for Defence Dr Sam Gulube - must take collective responsibility for what can only be called the “sad and sorry state of the SANDF”.

They either cannot – or do not – “sell” the need for a properly equipped and staffed defence force to government. Even the creation of a Department of Defence/National Treasury task team has not been able to add a single cent to the defence budget. At the same time defence is very much the poor relation when it comes to Parliament. It seldom features in debate and what happens at the Defence Portfolio Committee is generally so low-key it doesn’t generate a comment.

The single largest ongoing tasking of the SANDF is border protection. This is mostly a policing operation and should be done by the SA Police Service. The country’s crime fighters did it for a while and then passed the buck to the soldiers where all indications are, it will firmly remain.

In times of peace the defence budget is pretty much always likely to be cut, with the argument “we’re not at war” ruling the day.

In present South Africa, with its stated foreign policy of wanting to be part of bringing peace to Africa, this doesn’t cut the mustard.

South African soldiers and equipment have proven their mettle in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The same could happen in other African countries where unrest and violence is part and parcel of daily life.

Now, the time has come for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be informed – warts and all – about the precarious state the SANDF finds itself it. He must be told and know as Commander-in-Chief what is and, more to the point, isn’t, going on in “his” military.

Alternatively, the President could take some time and read comments posted by defenceWeb readers. There are well-informed people out there who have suggestions that make a lot of sense!

They appear to be care more about the SANDF than those purportedly in charge.

Defence allocation from National Treasury again down on previous year

The budget unveiled by former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba showed again defence is a poor relation in the government family. In real terms the amount of money allocated to the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) declined by over seven percent.

This must be galling for Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who last May informed the National Assembly of formation of a task team from her department and National Treasury. The team, she said, would look at the serious mismatch between defence funding and expectations placed on the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

Four months later, Siphiwe Dlamini, Department of Defence head of communications, told defenceWeb positive meetings had been held where “intense discussions” took place and there was “appreciation and understanding by both parties around matters on the table”.

Sadly, this did not turn into a windfall of any sort when Minister Gigaba delivered his maiden and only budget speech in the National Assembly when spending on programmes such as free higher education took precedence over defence.

The total defence budget for the 2018/19 financial year is R47.9 billion, down on the R48.9 billion allocated for the 2017/18 financial year. When inflation is taken into account defence should have been given R51.49 billion by National Treasury just to keep tread with inflation. This can be described as a real decrease of just under seven percent, an avid military aviation and history enthusiast pointed out.

The defence portion of the budget document states, in part, “in 2017/18, the department expects to maintain its personnel establishment at 75 500. However, to remain within the government’s expenditure ceiling for compensation of employees, the department plans to reduce its personnel establishment to 74 660 by 2020/21, mainly by means of natural attrition”.

Add to this compensation of employees – wages and salaries – amounts to 56.5% of the R48.9 billion defence budget and it appears the DoD/National Treasury task team did not really make meaningful headway. The Defence Review calls for only 40% of the budget to go towards personnel spending but it would be difficult and unpopular for government to cut defence jobs, with each job cut being one more unemployed person and potentially one less ANC voter.

In number terms, the national budget for 2018/19 allocates R6 416 billion to air defence, R4 425 to maritime defence and R16 234 billion to landward defence. All three allocations are less than for the 2017.

It seems there is little support for defence as other budget needs take higher priority and there is little lobbying for a stronger SANDF at either the political or public level, with many people not realising the importance of having a military in peacetime, for peacekeeping and border protection among others.

Until the economy improves and the overall budget increases, it is unlikely the SANDF will get the funding it needs, with other needs taking precedence and the military falling further into decline.

What is happening to SANDF public events and community relations?

The decision to scrap the annual Navy Festival for this year seems strange given the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) oft-stated commitment to taking the country’s military to the people.

The Simon’s Town showcase of the maritime service’s abilities, capabilities and equipment has for more than a decade been a popular attraction for both naval enthusiasts and Mr and Mrs John Citizen. Granted the location and surrounds of the base are not at the top of the user friendly list, but attendance has been good and many have commented positively on topics as diverse as morale, base cleanliness, the appearance and condition of the SA Navy’s compact fleet and just “how nice it is to see a sailor”.

That’s off the list for this year and given how other events have been handled by the SANDF, it does not appear likely there will be a Navy Festival in 2019.

It is unlikely the overall lack of funding in the SANDF is the reason for the cancellation. Although Armed Forces Day uses up a lot of money, estimated at over R50 million, funds for events such as the Navy Festival generally come out of  training budgets. It seems health and safety issues, poor planning and bad management are largely to blame.

Last year saw the SA Army Air Defence Artillery Formation mark its centenary in proper military fashion with a parade through the streets of Kimberley and associated military events. Sadly some years earlier the SA Army did not even mark its centenary. Indications were it was “supposed” to have been part of Armed Forces Day staged that year at the Mendi Memorial in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, but nothing came of it and the 100th anniversary of the SANDF's oldest component was not officially commemorated.

Then there was SAAF 95 two years ago. It rated a mention at the Air Force Prestige Day (formerly Air Force Day) parade and a logo emblazoned coffee mug given to guests at the SAAF Prestige Awards event. That was it, no flypasts, no parades, nothing!

On the other side of the equation, the air force went to great lengths to stage an aviation awareness and youth career expo at a school in one of Johannesburg’s south western suburbs last August. Displays were flown by the Silver Falcons as well as Gripen and Hawk.

Later in the year the SANDF took part in another school event. This was Pretoria’s Waterkloof primary School derby day and career exhibition.

According to the official SANDF publication, SA Soldier, it was part of efforts to strengthen community relations.

There doesn’t appear to be any logic when it comes to decisions to put the SANDF in the public eye. It seems to be OK to go to enormous effort (and expense) to display at schools, but not to keep flying the flag at events where some sort of continuity has been established, such as the Navy Festival, or simply ignoring important anniversaries.

Then there is also the complete lack of publicity given to the SAAF Silver Falcons 50th anniversary late last year. In other countries, air forces would have rolled out the red carpet for a half century anniversary of an aerobatic team. In South Africa, it was a closed event (followed admittedly, a week later by an airshow) with social media – and defenceWeb to a lesser extent – the only media involvement in the milestone anniversary

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