While the dictum of 40:30:30 spending regarding personnel, operating costs and capital renewal is not cast in stone, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) doesn’t appear to be paying any attention, even though this was the basis used by Roelf Meyer’s Defence Review committee.
Earlier this month the landward force announced the appointment of no less than 19 new brigadier generals and the just ended Exercise Ndlovu, the SANDF’s annual signature defence force preparation and combat readiness exercise, saw 1 400 military personnel involved. This is more than a thousand less than took part in Ex Ndlovu 2016 and 2 600 less than in 2011, when it was a full-fledged peace support exercise. This year’s iteration of Ndlovu saw border protection drills, tactics and doctrine exercised and the senior military command will probably justify the lesser number of bodies by pointing out border protection does not necessarily require the number of boots on the ground that peace support ops does.
Whatever spin the military does put on it, the bottom line remains that salaries and wages are by far the biggest component of the national defence budget. Some commentators put it as higher than 56 percent and others regularly point to the need for retrenchment of uniformed personnel who are either desk drivers or cannot contribute to the “fighting force” part of the SANDF because of age or health constraints.
At the end of the day it’s high time Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and General Solly Shoke, SANDF Chief, stop talking about the challenges facing the military and initiate action. It might be singularly unpalatable for the Minister as a representative of the ruling party and for Shoke, who is after all a government employee, but the time has now arrived for hard decisions.
The situation brings to mind an observation by a foreign military attaché. Currently on an African tour he regularly visits South Africa and after his last call here remarked to defenceWeb that the SANDF “appears to be marking time, rather than advancing”. An astute observation and one that should cause sleepless nights for those at the helm of the national military machine.