At nation/state level South Africa faces no major current and medium term threat. This is an indicator of why those in charge of the national purse are and will prioritise government spend on social issues with defence and security the poor cousins.
This approach is one not well-liked by Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and those in senior positions at the Department of Defence (DoD) and its major responsibility – the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
What mustn’t be forgotten in this scenario is that over 60% of the just on R50 billion allocated for the defence budget by National Treasury goes to pay people in uniform and civilians employed at DoD and the national defence force.
That effectively, is the elephant in Mapisa-Nqakula’s room and while it doesn’t rate the level of exposure and criticism levelled at other ministries, national and provincial departments as well as local authorities, it must be addressed.
Virtually all national government departments and the ministries overseeing them have elephants of differing sizes which, in government speak, is termed “a challenge” – by calling it a challenge, this removes the urgency of it being labelled “a problem”.
Think of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs under the leadership of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the widespread economic and educational damage caused by lockdowns and restrictions. Other ministries which spring readily to mind in this regard are Pravin Gordhan’s Public Enterprises (one needs say no more than State-owned enterprises), Lindiwe Sisulu’s Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (currently under scrutiny for hiring Cuban engineers, preceded by a litany of failed water supply contracts) and Patricia de Lille’s Public Works and Infrastructure (the Beit Bridge border fence “upgrade” among others).
Compensation of employees (CoE) is the major “consumer” in the DoD, taking the lion’s share of the just on R50 billion that Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula receives annually from National Treasury. A wag who keeps a weather eye on comings and goings in the defence sector offers the thought of changing CoE to CTC (cost to company). “It might jolt thinking into salaries as a cost item on the budget to be treated as such and not just another expense as implied by the CoE acronym,” is his cynical observation.
It’s set to become more of a headache thanks to the outcome of the latest round of public service wage negotiations. A once-off salary adjustment of 1.5% and a monthly cash gratuity of R978 could well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Apart from “voluntary separation” the Minister went nowhere near mentioning personnel cuts or other methods of lessening people numbers when she presented her budget vote last month.
She and former SA National Defence Force (SANDF) chief Solly Shoke as well as the four service chiefs make regular use of platforms ranging from Parliament (the National Assembly and defence portfolio committees) to parades and other military events and occasions to publicly plead for a more sympathetic ear from National Treasury and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. All to no avail, with even joint meetings where military met finance not loosening the purse strings.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula did not mention the Defence Review 2015 – supposedly the blueprint for an efficient military in the future – during her budget vote. Instead Gladys Kudjoe, Secretary for Defence with under a year’s service, is tasked to “develop a departmental policy position on an affordable level of defence ambition cognisant of funding challenges and emerging real and tangible threats to national security”. That instruction seemingly puts paid to the Defence Review and its milestones so one has to wonder about the effort put in to arrest the decline in the SANDF.
When Kudjoe’s policy position sees the light of day it is to be hoped “funding challenges” will not be another can to be kicked down the road as with many others in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration. Others are Military Veterans (where database work was “put on hold”), Home Affairs (tardiness in making the Border Management Authority workable), Transport (deteriorating road and rail networks), Police (need anything be said) and Health (ongoing hiccups with COVID-19 vaccinations).
The time is now for the defence and military veterans minister to act positively or she will join the likes of Mbalula, Motsoaledi, Cele and Mkhize and others previously negatively mentioned in the eyes of South Africans.
Not a fitting postscript for a person on the brink of becoming the longest serving defence minister in democratic South Africa, especially considering South Africa’s expected military contribution to possible Southern African Development Community intervention in neighbouring Mozambique’s insurgency.