Defence Review – Quo Vadis


Roelf Meyer and his Defence Review committee members can be forgiven for feeling their work has been in vain – the days and night spent travelling the length and breadth of the country to obtain input for a document and then turning that into a workable plan to shape the national military machine for the next 20 years or so appears to have become forgotten.

When former Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu charged him to plan the way forward for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and the local defence industry a wave of optimism was generated.

Sadly it now appears to be spent and with a national election looming hopes are not high for any resuscitation in the short term. Spending on defence in democratic South Africa has never rated a high priority, government’s use of the military as a foreign policy instrument notwithstanding.

Add to this another major task – that of border protection – and it’s patently obvious the SANDF is in need of a revamp. Meyer and his six-strong committee assisted by resource group, also six strong, produced a more than 420 page document mapping out the path they – and all those in civil society who contributed – can be proud of.

The arrival of a new minister in the form of Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was no value-add for the work done by the Meyer team and tabling of the Defence Review document in Parliament has still not happened. When announcing the committee members and their brief Sisulu said she wanted to see the fruits of their labours make it to Parliament in October 2012. That deadline has long passed and there doesn’t appear to be urgency from Mapisa-Nqakula’s side, or from President Zuma as Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, on moving the review process forward.

This does not auger well for a defence force whose leaders have regularly reminded their political masters and the South African public about the increasing workload placed on the country’s uniformed public servants with less and less funding. “Doing more with less” and “working smarter” are calls made regularly by the top brass to those under their command. That tasks allocated have been successfully completed is testament to the willingness of the majority of the SANDF to put shoulder to the wheel but this situation cannot and must not continue indefinitely.

Parliamentary questions on the Defence Review currently remain unanswered, further testimony to what appears to be an unwillingness to put the document up for scrutiny.

Surely the men and women in uniform as well as those leading them on the many and varied tasks the SANDF is given deserve better?