SONA more like The Nation is in a State, defence-wise


Last weeks’ much-touted State of the Nation Address (SONA) by South Africa’s first citizen, President Jacob Zuma, again failed to shed any light on the thinking of the Commander-in-Chief of the country’s military as far its utilisation, equipment and human resources are concerned.

He dealt, briefly, on a three way partnership that will see improved utilisation of the government-owned dockyard at Simon’s Town but did not venture into the role the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been given by Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in rural development. This was one area military watchers, defenceWeb included, had expected Zuma to highlight if not necessarily explain. But nary a mention of the initiative, currently centred on North West province with a Ministerial injunction that the MOU on which it rests should not gather dust in offices.

Speaking at the signing of the MOU with the North West provincial government in 2015 she said: “It should be a living document that drives our work and commits us to concrete results that create material conditions for the upliftment of people in rural areas”.

If the President didn’t say anything about it, it’s possible nothing has happened or he hasn’t been informed or even that he has been informed and doesn’t deem it worth telling the nation.

Whichever, it was yet another missed opportunity for the SANDF to tell one of the “good stories” the President feels are not told often enough.

Zuma also made no mention of the Border Management Authority (BMA), another government agency set to come into being this year as the responsible body for border control at South Africa’s 72 legal points of entry and exit. Nor did he speak a word about the thousands of kilometres of particularly land border a thin line of soldiers patrol 24/7, 365/12 under difficult circumstances.

Zuma’s did mention defence in reference to peacekeeping. “We will continue with our involvement in our mediation efforts, peacekeeping operations, and peace-making initiatives in Lesotho, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Mozambique, South Sudan, Somalia and Libya. The South African National Defence Force represents the country well in the peacekeeping missions,” he said.

In his SONA address Zuma also mentioned Armed Forces Day, which he initiated in 2012. This year’s iteration will be held in Durban. “Let me add that South Africa will use Armed Forces Day on 21 February 2017 to mark the centenary commemorations of the tragic sinking of the SS Mendi, which left 646 soldiers dead in 1917,” he said.

Judging from what he didn’t say about the defence force it’s safe to assume the defence budget will again be reduced this year with very few voices raised in objection.