Defence budget cuts impact Reserve Force capability, JSCD told

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The reserve component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is seen as a valued contributor to the “one force” concept and continues to do so notwithstanding factors ranging from age through to call-up fraud and a diminishing number of budgeted for mandays.

The cut in service days for part-time soldiers is further evidence of how less defence funding is hamstringing the SANDF in execution of its constitutional mandate. This includes, among others, border protection (Operation Corona) and assistance to the SA Police Service (SAPS) as per the standing Operation Prosper tasking as well as humanitarian aid when natural or other disasters strike (Operation Chariot). Reserves have also been deployed continentally to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Operation Mistral) as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there and Mozambique (Operation Vikela) with the Southern African Development Community mission.

The Reserves were again under the spotlight at last week’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting where Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana (in the absence of Major General Stephen Marumo) went into some detail on the plight of the part-time soldiers.

One aspect commented on by the JSCD was age with the average currently 46 and “ever increasing”, according to JSCD co-chair Cyril Xaba. Strategies for rejuvenation and ways to “enhance” the viability of the Reserve Force are needed and were discussed at the recent Reserve Force indaba II.

The oversight committee called for an “urgent determination” of the status of Reserve Force personnel not called up for duty in the past five years. This number has decreased and currently stands at 5 233. In this regard the JSCD recommends the Reserve Force Command and Department of Defence (DoD) work with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to ensure its personnel system – PERSOL – is “functional”.

A properly functioning personnel system, a public representative preferring anonymity said, would have prevented the personnel problems during the call-up of Umzimvubu Regiment in 2021 for Operation Prosper duties in KwaZulu-Natal. Two boards of inquiry (BOIs) as well as 25 deaths and – as of now – no payment for the call-up are at least partially the fault of a personnel control system not functioning as it should.

On reserve numbers there are around 19 000 registered part-timers with the majority (12 000) in the SA Army Reserve. The remainder are split between the SA Military Health Service (SMHS) (2 400), DoD Logistics Division (1 000), SA Navy (SAN) (670) and SA Air Force (SAAF) (650).

From a 2021 budgeted manday allocation of 2.6 million, Reserve Force call-ups  shrunk to 1.9 million. This, according to Niyabo-Mana’s presentation means “not all force employment goals can be fulfilled”, although Reserve mandays are regularly exceeded in spite of a lack of budget for them.

The issues affecting the part-time component of the national defence force, the JSCD believes, need a permanent leader who can drive the strategic role of the Reserve Force with an eye on the current SANDF review process on its “role, cost and rejuvenation”. The Reserve Force has been without a permanent Chief for some time, with Niyabo-Mana currently acting.