More money for goods and services than salaries in Op Thiba deployment

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South Africa’s much criticised deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a regional mission and force has at least one positive in that goods and services and not cost of employees (CoEs) is the major expense – although not by far.

The deployment of 2 900 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel for the Southern African Development Community peace commitment – SAMIDRC (SADC Mission in DRC) – was signed off by President Cyril Ramaphosa with a cost said late last year to be “about R2 billion”.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) National Assembly (NA) public representative Washington Mafanya, seemingly not accepting the vagueness of the Commander-in-Chief’s cost estimate, asked Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise for details.

He was informed the 12-month deployment would cost R2 371 108 511 with R1 234 787 591 allocated for unspecified goods and services. This is short of a million less than the R1 136 320 020 set aside to cover compensation of employees (CoEs) far from the normal Department of Defence (DoD)/SANDF number crunching which sees CoE coming in at 60% plus of the National Treasury (NT) allocation in Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s national budget.

The South African deployment has, as far is as known, seen around 600 military personnel so far go to the eastern DRC as per Operation Thiba. Reported non-availability of aircraft earlier this year saw the movement of South African soldiers put on temporary hold with the SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) and the DoD Head of Communication (HoC) as of today (8 April) giving providing no update on troop and/or equipment movement.

South Africa is the major contributor to the SAMIDRC force with Malawi and Tanzania set to commit 2 100 soldiers. The three SADC countries are presently also the mainstay of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) component of the United Nations (UN) mission in DRC – MONUSCO – set to wrap up operations by year-end.

Ramaphosa has been criticised for the DRC deployment decision as troops are reportedly short of equipment, based in unhygienic accommodation and live just about from hand to mouth as there are no refrigeration facilities. The death of two South African soldiers in a 14 February mortar attack by M23 rebels has added more fuel to the fire.

Leading the criticism is Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais who called the Operation Thiba deployment a disgrace. Another who voiced disapproval is ActionSA whose “member for defence” Mohammed Rafeek Shah said there were “critical questions” in view of the national defence force being “over-stretched and underfunded” as regards personnel and prime mission equipment (PME).

The “over-stretch” was also raised by defence analyst Helmoed Heitman who said in a radio interview the SANDF did not have aircraft to transport equipment to eastern DRC. Airlift capacity, apparently committed to by the DRC government, has not been forthcoming.