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Editor Column

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.

Government progress doesn’t include the defence force

Embattled South African president Jacob Zuma had his spin doctoring machine in top gear this week issuing a more than three thousand six hundred word statement “taking stock” of progress made by government in the past year.

Issued by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga of The Presidency the statement is clear it is “not exhaustive” but the complete omission of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is not a good sign.

Apart from 165 words on benefits for military veterans, included as part of the statement’s focus on social transformation, and 90 relating to overall aspects of Operation Phakisa, there is no mention of what the country’s military is doing to contribute to national well-being and security.

Economic transformation and re-igniting growth and jobs; social transformation; governance and administration; safety and security and focus areas for the rest of the year are what the President’s chief spin doctor believes are achievements worth noting.

Not a word is said about the thin line of men and women in uniform who ceaselessly patrol the country’s landward borders preventing even more illegal immigrants entering and confiscating millions of rands worth of illegal goods that would otherwise be sold without any duties accruing to National Treasury. There’s also no mention of the close to one thousand five hundred soldiers doing the boots on the ground execution of government foreign policy as part on the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Dr Ngqulunga also overlooked last week’s visit to South Africa by Central African Republic (CAR) President Faustin-Archange Touadera who told the Commander-in-Chief of the South African military a commemorative statue would be erected in Bangui to honour the 15 South African soldiers who died there in a high-intensity firefight in 2013.

Zuma is not in a good space politically and spin doctoring is an accepted tool in the battle for political power. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to mention the SANDF. The South African military, for all its problems and faults, does many tasks well and recognition should be given.

Is Defence intelligence aiming to sabotage South Africa’s good military relations?

On one hand the Defence Minister is building bridges – the latest being with Pakistan – that will see personnel exchanges and technology transfers and on the other hand, almost lurking in the shadows, is Defence Intelligence with an apparently different agenda.

This was brought to light this week when it became known the SA Air Force (SAAF) is running a weapons camp at AFB Overberg with both Gripen and Hawk aircraft. Interestingly, the Luftwaffe is coming to the end of yet another intensive test period for its Taurus missiles at the same base using six Tornado jets and requests were made through official channels for at least some joint training with the South African fighters.

While it has not – and probably never will – be made official, defenceWeb has been reliably informed the request was turned down by Defence Intelligence.

Taken in the light of previous joint exercises in South Africa, involving the German air force and navy, with the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) airborne and maritime services, this decision doesn’t make sense. Added to this is the fact that South African pilots are training in Cuba and Russia, and according to the Chief of the Air Force its members have been sent to Cuba, Zimbabwe, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Bangladesh.

Making it even more illogical is Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s just completed visit to Pakistan when she entered into a memorandum of understanding that will see the South African military take part in exchange visits with their Pakistani counterparts as well take part in training and technology transfer. The MOU extends to the defence industry and one has to wonder if Defence Intelligence operatives will be scanning documentation to ensure the security of, among others, intellectual property remains “safely” in South Africa.

All round the impression given is that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. This, in a democratic country not at war, is an ominous sign of those working out of official sight and oversight attempting to exert undue control over what are normal military engagements between like-minded countries.

At the same time it should be borne in mind an SA Navy frigate is returning from an extended foreign tour of duty that saw her take part in exercises and training with both the German and Royal navies. Also that South African men and women in uniform are being taught specifics of the art of war and its many aspects in countries as far afield as Cuba and Russia. In the case of the Caribbean nation some of its military technical personnel are teaching and mentoring South African military mechanics at SANDF bases.

Defence Intelligence is also rumoured to have ruffled feathers with the SA Air Force by taking ownership of the Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) recently acquired from Denel Dynamics. In the past, the Air Force has operated UAVs.

The reasoning behind Defence Intelligence’s decision to avoid the Germans is not clear – defenceWeb has been informed the Chief of the SA Air Force avoided the German contingent when he visited AFB Overberg recently. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it is a lost opportunity for both South Africa and Germany.

It is also something that could hurt the Denel Overberg Test Range (Denel OTR), which relies on countries like Germany testing its equipment at the range. Defence Intelligence needs to start working with, not against, the SANDF, government and defence industry for the benefit of everyone.

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