“The over-riding impression I have of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is that it’s marking time,” was the comment of an Addis Ababa-based defence attaché when he made one of his periodic visits to South Africa just on two years ago.
“Marking time” has been replaced by “halt”, with the Department of Defence now admitting that even the first milestone set by Roelf Meyer and the team which helped him research and compile the Defence Review back in 2012 is unreachable.
There has to be a major mindset change if the “halt” is not to be followed by a “parade dismissed” command.
Service chiefs have been warning of the impact of an ever-diminishing defence budget for at least the past five years. SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke just doesn’t answer questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of the South African military posed in the few public forums he attends. His standard response goes along the line of “I’m just a soldier and I follow orders”.
This is not good enough!
He as well as the two top civilians in the Department of Defence hierarchy – Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Secretary for Defence Dr Sam Gulube – must take collective responsibility for what can only be called the “sad and sorry state of the SANDF”.
They either cannot – or do not – “sell” the need for a properly equipped and staffed defence force to government. Even the creation of a Department of Defence/National Treasury task team has not been able to add a single cent to the defence budget. At the same time defence is very much the poor relation when it comes to Parliament. It seldom features in debate and what happens at the Defence Portfolio Committee is generally so low-key it doesn’t generate a comment.
The single largest ongoing tasking of the SANDF is border protection. This is mostly a policing operation and should be done by the SA Police Service. The country’s crime fighters did it for a while and then passed the buck to the soldiers where all indications are, it will firmly remain.
In times of peace the defence budget is pretty much always likely to be cut, with the argument “we’re not at war” ruling the day.
In present South Africa, with its stated foreign policy of wanting to be part of bringing peace to Africa, this doesn’t cut the mustard.
South African soldiers and equipment have proven their mettle in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The same could happen in other African countries where unrest and violence is part and parcel of daily life.
Now, the time has come for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be informed – warts and all – about the precarious state the SANDF finds itself it. He must be told and know as Commander-in-Chief what is and, more to the point, isn’t, going on in “his” military.
Alternatively, the President could take some time and read comments posted by defenceWeb readers. There are well-informed people out there who have suggestions that make a lot of sense!
They appear to be care more about the SANDF than those purportedly in charge.