C-in-Cs speech disappoints


President Jacob Zuma’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) should disappoint security professionals. The speech was frankly anodyne, shallow and spent barely 120 words out of some 4300 on crime – the sole security issue raised. This was not really a surprise, as reported ahead of last night’s speech.

To be sure, crime is one of the government’s five priorities along with education, health, rural development and land reform as well as creating decent work. Let’s face it, these are the national security threats we currently face.

However crime was last on this list and the 120 words included scant detail. Zuma ad libbed that the police would be expanded a further 10% in the next three years, but the plan to balloon the police from about 180 000 to 210 000 has been known for some years now. (The defence force is about 70 000 strong by contrast.) He also wanted “tougher action” against service delivery protest violence.

That defence force got no mention at all, but that is understandable. Foreign affairs and the workings of many other departments of state were not mentioned either in his 14-page speech that took 70 minutes to deliver. If everyone got a mention, Zuma might still be busy right now. Zuma did thank the defence force for its role in support foreign policy in his first SONA last June. He did the same in October when he took the salute at a parade in Bloemfontein to celebrate ten years of peacekeeping.

In December, Zuma, as commander-in-chief also announced an interim across-the-board salary increase for soldiers and defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu in between announced a number of measures to improve working and service conditions. What more can be said?

One will have to see. At the end of his address Zuma said it constituted an outline of “the main elements of our plans for 2010, our collective commitment as government to the people of South Africa.” He added the SONA “provides a broad overview of our action plan. Ministers will provide the detail in their respective Budget Vote speeches.” Nothing wrong with that…

We’ll actually know a great deal more before then. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan hands out the cash Wednesday in his budget speech. This contains the detail of government spending – per department – for the upcoming year. Then there are this month’s ministerial cluster briefings.

The problem though is where policy is new or where turf must be allocated. The locus classicus (classic example) is the Border Management Agency (BMA) Zuma announced in a single line in his first SONA in June last year. Border security has been an interdepartmental nightmare for years precisely because no-one is ultimately in charge, no-one can can settle disputes between departments and everyone can dodge their responsibility. The result is an open border. A national intelligence estimate some time ago called this the single greatest “hard” national security threat facing SA.

Cabinet is a loose confederation of warring tribes and importance is related to budget and spread of responsibility. Taking into account that border control involves the departments of finance (customs), health, agriculture, police, home affairs (immigration), defence and state security; it really is for Zuma to flesh out the structure, mandate, budget and command & control lines of his BMA. It is not something any minister can do. It will look like a power grab and an minster or team of ministers doing so will find other ministers and departments mobilising against them. This is exactly what has sunk the current Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee. Instead of being the coordinating mechanism the name suggests, it is a terrain of struggle where departments compete to expand their power, thwart rivals, uphold departmental sovereignty and protect budgets. That accounts for the holes in the security fence around Beit Bridge border post.

Unless Zuma specifically allocates responsibility this malaise will continue. Please, Mr President!


For more on this topic, consider attending defenceWeb’ Border Control Conference March 17-18 at Gallagher Estate, Midrand.