Is SA mature enough for a defence debate?


South Africa will shortly have a defence debate and I wonder if we are mature let alone informed enough to have it.

My doubts have been reinforced by some of the totally ignorant and malicious reader comments one all-to-often finds on media reports on the South African military. Examples abound and I will submit the vitriol found at as just one unhappy example.

One shudders to think how these often-nameless nasties will react to the Second Defence Review (2nd DR) when (and if) it sees the light of day.

Speaking of the 2nd DR… What is the hold-up? Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in April – roughly four months ago now – showed MPs a blue lever-arch file that she said contained the paperwork. This after she told our public representatives the long-anticipated update of South Africa’s 1996 White Paper on Defence and 1998 Defence Review has been completed and was ready for Parliamentary and public discussion.
“We promised to deal with a number of issues of policy review and we have done that,” she said in her annual budget vote. “The long overdue Defence Review is here. We have a draft that we would like to present to the Parliamentary Committees at their earliest opportunity. Thereafter we would like to embark on a public consultative process before we submit the final Defence Review to Parliament.”

Various ministers of defence have promised an update since 2004 but none have reached Parliament. Helmoed-Römer Heitman, the dean of South African defence writers has said that various efforts have been made over the years, with the latest produced just before Sisulu’s appointment. But this, he says, “blithely skipped over core strategic issues, ignored already approved army and navy force designs and contained errors of fact.” Heitman wrote in Janes’ Defence Weekly in April last year that the draft had been written “by advisers with naïve notions of international politics and little understanding of defence and who focused on peripheral issues.”

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in her second annual budget in May last year noted major changes, “both dramatic and evolutionary, have taken place in the defence environment over the past 15 years. The policy review and strategy would of necessity take this into consideration and will be informed by a clear-eyed assessment of what we want our foreign policy to achieve, the potential threats facing us, and socio-economic interests in what is a very uncertain era of growing competition among new major powers. The new environment requires new thinking and new approaches,” Sisulu said. Would be nice to see.