Friday, February 23, 2018
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Editor Column

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

Still no confirmation on future management of the Simon’s Town dockyard

It’s been a year since the announcement that new Denel division – Denel ISM (Integrated Systems and Maritime) – will be the manager of the Simon’s Town naval dockyard but since then Armscor is still effectively in charge of the facility.

In Denel’s latest annual report, acting chief executive Zwelakhe Ntshepe names the handover of dockyard management to the State-owned defence and technology conglomerate in his performance review.

“This gives Denel a strong foothold in the naval environment and I am confident it will become a catalyst for our participation in a number of maritime acquisition programmes currently in the pipeline,” Ntshepe wrote.

The maritime acquisition programmes he refers to are Projects Biro and Hotel. Originally meant to supply the SA Navy with seven new platforms, it has been cut by three with only a new hydrographic vessel and three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) still – hopefully – on the acquisition list.

The Simon’s Town facility, whether managed by Denel ISM or not, doesn’t feature in the current list of Armscor’s preferred bidders for the four vessels. Southern African Shipyards (SAS) in Durban is the preferred bidder for the new hydrographic vessel and Damen Shipyards Cape Town enjoys the same status as regards the IPVs. The Request for Offer (RfO) for the OPV component of Biro was withdrawn earlier this year - apparently due to budget constraints with no indication of when, or if, it will be resuscitated.

This has also put the spotlight onto the memorandum of understanding entered into between Denel and Poly Technologies of China. That document was apparently predicated on the Chinese company being awarded either the hydrographic or patrol vessels shipbuilding contract and becoming involved in the dockyard.

This also raises the question of the role of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) in the dockyard. In March this year it signed an agreement with Denel covering the support of the South African Navy’s three submarines and four frigates, with TKMS to provide general support to the dockyard operations, infrastructure and maintenance. As per the MoU, TKMS would provide technical support for frigate and submarine work in the dockyard.

At present there is no clarity. Will Denel, in the form of its maritime division, take over Simon’s Town shipyard management? When will Denel have the National Treasury approvals Armscor maintains are needed before it can take over the dockyard? In September last year Denel ISM was selected to take over dockyard management, with Armscor interfacing between the SA Navy and Denel. Transfer to Denel ISM was supposed to take place after certain conditions were met.

With President Jacob Zuma scheduled to imminently update the nation on the blue economy component of Operation Phakisa it would be good to know the shipbuilding and maintenance that can be done at Simon’s Town will in fact happen.

At the same time progress to the point of naming contractors and starting dates for work on the new SA Navy platforms would also be welcome, if the projects do indeed go ahead.

In its 2017 Annual Performance Plan, the Department of Defence said it has “reprioritised the planned acquisition of a hydrographic vessel to the FY2017/18 and the acquisition of offshore patrol vessels to the FY2018/19. This is expected to increase spending in the Maritime Combat Capability sub-programme in the Maritime Defence programme in those years.”

However, the Maritime Defence budget allocation will not change much over the coming years, increasing slightly from R4.790 billion in 2017/18 to R4.893 billion in 2018/19 but then drop to R4.482 billion in 2019/20, almost the same as 2016/17.


It’s time SANDF management acts on personnel spending

While the dictum of 40:30:30 spending regarding personnel, operating costs and capital renewal is not cast in stone, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) doesn’t appear to be paying any attention, even though this was the basis used by Roelf Meyer’s Defence Review committee.

Earlier this month the landward force announced the appointment of no less than 19 new brigadier generals and the just ended Exercise Ndlovu, the SANDF’s annual signature defence force preparation and combat readiness exercise, saw 1 400 military personnel involved. This is more than a thousand less than took part in Ex Ndlovu 2016 and 2 600 less than in 2011, when it was a full-fledged peace support exercise. This year’s iteration of Ndlovu saw border protection drills, tactics and doctrine exercised and the senior military command will probably justify the lesser number of bodies by pointing out border protection does not necessarily require the number of boots on the ground that peace support ops does.

Whatever spin the military does put on it, the bottom line remains that salaries and wages are by far the biggest component of the national defence budget. Some commentators put it as higher than 56 percent and others regularly point to the need for retrenchment of uniformed personnel who are either desk drivers or cannot contribute to the “fighting force” part of the SANDF because of age or health constraints.

At the end of the day it’s high time Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and General Solly Shoke, SANDF Chief, stop talking about the challenges facing the military and initiate action. It might be singularly unpalatable for the Minister as a representative of the ruling party and for Shoke, who is after all a government employee, but the time has now arrived for hard decisions.

The situation brings to mind an observation by a foreign military attaché. Currently on an African tour he regularly visits South Africa and after his last call here remarked to defenceWeb that the SANDF “appears to be marking time, rather than advancing”. An astute observation and one that should cause sleepless nights for those at the helm of the national military machine.

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.


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