The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was allocated R46.8 billion in the 2017/18 national budget on 22 February, representing an increase of just under R1.5 billion on the 2016/17 budget. However, the increase belies shrinkage in real terms.
Inflation stood at 6.6 percent in January 2017, an improvement over some months in 2016 when it stood at around 7%. This compares to the 3% increase in defence spending for 2017/18.
The weak rand and currency volatility is due to further hit the coffers of the SANDF, which faces a tougher battle sourcing spares and equipment from overseas as well as sending personnel overseas for training.
The SANDF is already struggling to meet its mandate and sustain operations with a defence budget that is less than 1% of GDP. There is little money available for acquisition, for example, with most big projects on hold (Project Biro has been deferred to 2018/19 while the Air Force’s acquisition of maritime and transport aircraft, communications equipment and ammunition will only occur in 2019/20). However, Project Hotel for a new hydrographic survey vessel will take place in 2017/18. Smaller projects for things like field kitchens (Teamster), mine detection gear (Pirate) and engineering equipment are being implemented.
The little money available for operations and equipment is evident in the fact that the majority of the Department of Defence’s budget will go towards the compensation of employees, although wages and salaries will drop by R1.9 this financial year and by R2.9 billion in 2018/19 as government tries to save money. This will see the downsizing and ‘right sizing’ of the defence force through personnel cuts.
Saving money is all well and good, but if less money is spent on the SANDF, it should be asked to do less. However, there is no indication that the SANDF’s responsibilities will be reduced, and it is still expected to patrol South Africa’s borders under Operation Corona, contribute peacekeepers to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, patrol the Mozambique Channel and fulfil its other duties from search and rescue to VIP transport.
The economic situation of almost zero growth means no relief is in sight for the SANDF. Increasingly the chief of arms of service are acknowledging that funding is constraining their operations, but until the political landscape changes or the economy improves, things will not be getting any better. In the meantime, it is time for the powers that be to realise that one does not do more with less; one does less with less.