Raw deal for defence in SONA


Last week’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Cyril Ramaphosa, also Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), sadly did not touch on any defence related matters.

No mention was made of upping border protection, increasing maritime patrols to prevent the abuse of ocean resources or, dare one say it, acquisition of aircraft to assist in the maritime domain.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who didn’t make it into Cabinet on the original ANC electoral list, but was retained by Ramaphosa, seems to have been handed a poisoned chalice.

Any “good” work she does in the wider South African defence sector is going to cost and government seemingly doesn’t want to spend in this area. So, the Minister is going to be damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. She will be chastised for not taking sufficient measures to ensure the country’s military machine works properly and no doubt will be rapped over the knuckles if she asks – and is given – more funding by National Treasury to enable South Africa’s airmen, military medics, sailors and soldiers to do what they are trained to, as many appear to see military spending as a waste of resources when there are pressing social needs in South Africa.

defenceWeb has suggested it before and will do it again. The Department of Defence and the SA National Defence Force have to embark on a wide-ranging communication and information dissemination campaign. Only by doing this will the public, members of parliament through to the military attaché corps, the local defence industry, and men and women in the uniforms of the four services, know what’s being done for them and why it is being done.

It will also have the positive spin-off of keeping all South Africans in the know as to what the national defence force is doing to ensure they “feel and are safe”, as the Constitution states.

At a time of economic uncertainty and limited budgets all round, the SANDF continues to feel the pinch and in a contracting economy more funding is unlikely. Cutting the defence budget seems an easy choice for a country not at war, but the general public (and many in government) do not seem to understand the importance of having an adequately funded military.

If the SANDF had to be dissolved today, South Africa’s oceans would be fair game to smugglers and illegal fishing vessels; illegal immigrants and criminals would flock across the borders and peacekeeping efforts in Central Africa would be hampered. Search and rescue and disaster relief efforts, such as the response to Cyclone Idai, would be almost impossible.

Just because South Africa is not at war doesn’t mean the SANDF is not a busy organisation. The problem is most people, including those in government, do not know enough about what the SANDF does and just how precarious its situation is given its poor level of funding. If those in government and the public understood what the SANDF does for South Africa, they might be more sympathetic to its funding requirements.

Ignoring the role of the SANDF and Department of Defence in protecting South Africa’s security has dangerous long-term consequences. It is time the Commander-in-Chief and those under him gave the SANDF the attention it deserves. The SANDF and DoD need to also play their part and properly communicate the vital services they provide.