SA defence exports up in 2022

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2022 was a better year for the South African defence industry compared to 2021, with R1 billion more in products being exported to countries around the world.

Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) late last month was briefed by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) on its quarterly reports for 2022 by Advocate Ezra Jele, NCACC Secretariat Head.

He provided a breakdown of import and export permits for the four quarters of last year, which showed that for the 2022 calendar year, South Africa exported R4.679 billion worth of military hardware and munitions, up from R3.353 billion the year before.

Much of this increase came in the last quarter of 2022, when the NCACC approved 161 export permits to the value of R2.458 billion. This compares with 152 permits valued at R818 million for the third quarter; 146 permits valued at R570 million for the second quarter; and 127 export permits valued at R833 million for the first quarter of the year.

While Jele did not give a breakdown of what the export permits covered, it is likely that ammunition made up a large component, along with armoured vehicles. Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) in particular secured multiple large (millions and tens of millions of euros) contracts last year for 155 mm artillery ammunition and 40 mm grenade launcher ammunition. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, last year South Africa exported approximately 200 armoured vehicles.

With regard to import permits, in 2022 the NCACC authorised 263 permits valued at R281 million – this compares with 250 permits worth R205 million authorised in 2021.

Although defence exports are up, they could be even higher. Last year the NCACC revealed that exports worth R2.85 billion were on hold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Poland. Jele in November gave no clear explanation why exports were on hold in spite of the fact there are no sanctions against Turkey, Poland etc. but did hint at the risk of diversion of destructive weapons, presumably to Ukraine.

In his March presentation, Jele did not reveal any further information about the export permits on hold to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Poland.

The South African defence industry has long expressed frustration at the slow pace of export permit processing. One of the complaints is that the permit process is paper-based and thus slow and cumbersome. However, a digital system is being put in place but it has not gone live yet. Jele said that loadshedding has been affecting the time to process applications because the old system was taking longer to reboot and system availability was low. The NCACC is getting closer to migrating to the new digital system and is in the user-acceptance testing phase.