Is the Defence Review dead?


The South African Defence Review appears to be dead and buried, with the latest information from the Department of Defence indicating the Review is unachievable due to the lack of defence funding.

In its latest Annual Performance Plan, the Department of Defence said there is no money available to meet even the first goal of the Defence Review, to arrest the decline of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

There is very little money available for defence in general, with most arms of the South African National Defence Force having their budgets cut by a third to a half. The defence allocation has declined year-on-year by approximately 5% per annum in real terms over the last 20 years to less than 1% of the Gross Domestic Product, resulting in the loss of essential defence capabilities.

The result is “significant impact on the capacity and capabilities of the DoD and the level of RSA defence ambition in support of its national interests and foreign policy,” according to the Deparment.

The Department of Defence is trying to raise money on its own, such as ‘sweating assets’ and selling off surplus property. It has tried implementing “non-cost driven deliverables” of the Defence Review, but this has little significant impact on the SANDF, its operations and its equipment and readiness.

Indeed, the DoD’s latest Performance Plan warns, regarding the first outcome of the Defence Review, that “the reduction in the DoD budget allocation has effectively rendered the ‘DoD Plan to Arrest the Decline’ as unachievable. This may necessitates a complete re-appreciation of the full department with a view to reconfigure and re-align in order to achieve sustainability within the allocated resources.”

The Defence Review is the brainchild of former defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu, but when she was reshuffled in mid-2012, the Review was substantially delayed and only approved by Cabinet on 19 March 2014, and endorsed by the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in June 2015.

Part of Sisulu’s vision was to create the Defence Review and then a funding model to cost its implementation. With her departure, the costing side never got off the ground. This is arguably one of the biggest reasons why the Review never really took off.

Once a popular buzzword amongst the top echelons of the SANDF, the Defence Review is hardly mentioned at all and seems to have been all but forgotten.

One of the problems with the Defence Review is that it has few champions at the ministerial level and above in Government – defence as a whole is not well defended when it comes to budget cuts.

With the current budget shortfall severely impacting the capabilities of the SANDF, it does not appear the R18.2 billion needed over the next five years to implement the initial steps of the Defence Review will be found. As the DoD states, “the cost of implementing the review’s proposals is over and above the current allocation and is not yet provided for in the department’s baseline over the medium term.”

It seems that the only time the Defence Review can be implemented is when South Africa’s economy turns around and more money is made available to the fiscus and by default the Department of Defence. It is hard to say how long this will take. What is a certainty is that the DoD is going to have to be very patient and wait a while for the economy, and the defence budget, to improve. At the moment, the 2015 Defence Review is a luxury South Africa cannot afford.