SA defence industry’s poor relation status must change


More proof – if needed – that the South African defence industry is the poor relation in the national industrial sector comes from the recent ruling party lekgotla.

Following the three-day gathering in Irene, ironically also headquarters of embattled Denel, the ANC released a statement indicating “a re-imagined industrial strategy” as part of a broader five year programme of action.

Ten industrial sectors are earmarked as priorities. These include automotive; clothing; textiles; leather and footwear; gas; chemicals and plastics; renewable energy; steel and metal fabrication; tourism; high-tech industries; the creative industry; the oceans economy and agriculture and agro-processing.

At a stretch automotive, clothing, textiles, chemicals and steel and metal fabrication can be seen as components of the local defence industry. There is no mention of, for example, design and manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), seen internationally as essential to any modern military. Cybersecurity also doesn’t rate a mention.

These are two areas defenceWeb see the stagnating local defence industry providing because, in both instances, the appropriate noises of acceptance (albeit muted) have been made by the Department of Defence.

Big ticket items are not going to be any part of the local defence industry for the foreseeable future and with a Defence Industry Fund (DIF) now apparently up and running to provide the necessary capital to local industry making it happen shouldn’t be too problematic. Similarly, the local defence industry now has a BBBEE charter so the politically correct guidelines are there.

What is sorely needed is logical reasoning by the government side in the form of the Defence Ministry and Secretariat to make National Treasury funding available for defence spending. This has to be backed by active and ongoing lobbying from the defence industry to ensure it happens.

AMD must keep the pressure on via interaction with parliamentarians at all levels so those sitting in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces know what the national defence force is and what it does as well as what it needs to do its work properly. Lobbying efforts should also be extended to provincial legislatures to ensure the national defence force is widely and well-known. Only if the military is front of mind with decision makers will progress – and funding – come.