In the United States the abbreviation “DU” stands for depleted uranium – a controversial heavyweight metal used in antitank ammunition there.
In South Africa DU stands for “Defence Update”, a no-less controversial heavyweight document so long in preparation that anyone born at the time of its conception should now be in primary school.
The DU reviews defence policy as articulated in a 1996 Defence White Paper (DWP) and in the 1998 Defence Review (DR) that led to the R47-billion Strategic Defence Package, which saw the country buy 50 fighter aircraft, 30 helicopters, four frigates and three submarines.
The DWP and DR saw the main role of the SA National Defence Force as defence against aggression. It only contemplated a limited SA exposure to peacekeeping.
The latter has, however, since 2001 been the main preoccupation of the military. With the policy unchanged, though outdated, the SANDF has not been able to either budget or equip to meet its actual daily task.
It is expected the DU will address this issue as it was raised during public hearings in October 2004, the last time – now five years ago – defence policy was widely debated in this country. Neither the completed DU – now called DU2025 – nor its drafts are in the public domain and the defence department`s annual report only makes passing reference to its content.
Today is something of an anniversary for DU2025. It is exactly a year-and-a-half years after former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota promised the National Assembly his department would brief Parliament – and the public – “within a month”.
The affable minister – as he then was – told MPs the “new force design is now ready and will be presented in detail to both the Executive and the Legislature within the next month.” It`s been some month.
Let`s be kind. In the same address, his last budget vote, last May, Lekota also promised to expand on the contents of the DU, but did not, presenting a series of platitudes and generalities instead.
It is not clear what the delay is, although up to September it was likely with the department. Following Lekota`s resignation and the appointment of former police minister Charles Nqakula in his place the delay became that of the minister`s, and justifiably so as he had to familiarise himself with the document before he could sell it to Cabinet.
But it is unlikely he will still get the chance. We are now within three months of an election and it will take a politician with iron will to concentrate on policy over politics. Even if Nqakula had such a constitution, his colleagues probably do not, nor our MPs, keen as they are to secure and hold an advantageous place on the party list and wind up the business of the Third Parliament.
So we will have to wait. In fact, we have been waiting a long time. In 2003 Lekota downplayed the need for a defence update, and one of his officials told this editor at the time the department was privately updating the DWP and DR regularly. It was pointed out to the official that this meant SA`s stated defence policy – as contained in those documents and sanctioned by Parliament – and its actual policy (as contained in their scribbling and margin notes) were not the same: at best a dangerous development. Lekota announced the commencement of an update process in his next budget vote.
Let us hope our wait is nearly over.
Perhaps it is.
That most able of MPs and SA Communist Party (SACP) deputy secretary general Jeremy Cronin recently told defenceWeb the Fourth Parliament should pay more attention to defence.
He was commenting on a SACP position paper published last year that proposed a “serious strategic evaluation” of the country`s defence capabilities and needs, along with an assessment of the military`s state of health.
The paper, titled “The SACP and State Power: The Alliance post-Polokwane – ready to govern?” notes that “Marxism has classically regarded the armed forces as central to the question of state power.”
The paper, published in the SACP Central Committee`s information bulletin Bua Komanisi prior to the party`s policy conference in late September, added that in “the light of this, it is embarrassing to admit how little strategic attention since 1994 the SACP (and, indeed, the [SACP-African National Congress-Congress of SA Trade Unions] Alliance in general) has paid to the question of the armed forces in our country.
“Our 12th National Congress resolutions and programme have a few passing and minor references to this topic. The ANC`s 52nd National Conference resolutions provide no strategic thinking on why we need an SANDF [SA National Defence Force], on what kind of SANDF we have and/or need (in terms of size, the profile of personnel, weaponry, deployment, democratic culture and doctrine), on what strategic considerations (including “threat analyses”) might ground such views; and, above all, on what we have learned over the past 14 years. …
“While the SANDF situation might not be as dire as some reports suggest, it would be hard to deny that as the SACP and as the wider ANC-led alliance we have been relatively careless about the armed forces situation in our country. If we are serious … then we can no longer afford this carelessness.”
I need say nothing more.