Introducing her budget vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula emphasised the impact of an over R15 billion reduction in defence funding, which reduces capital expenditure to “a trickle” and puts the operating budget “under extreme pressure”.
She asked parliamentarians to approve the R46.268 billion allocated to her department by National Treasury after outlining achievements and “challenges” the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) faces in executing its major constitutional mandate of ensuring all South Africans feel and are safe. At the same time Mapisa-Nqakula again posed the question she has done on a number of prior occasions, albeit in slightly different form.
“Is this House satisfied current resourcing of the national defence force is consistent with the obligations placed on it by the Constitution?” She previously phrased it along the lines of “South Africans must decide what sort of national defence force they want”.
In a further allusion to what the SANDF can do she pointedly reminded parliamentarians “defence can only perform to the extent it is resourced and funded”.
“I once again ask this House to apply its mind and wisdom to the question: ‘What kind of defence force should South Africa have and what can it afford?’”
The Minister said South Africa needs a defence force that can influence widely, react swiftly, contain effectively and support efficiently wherever it is deployed, adding fiscal constraints mean the SANDF “will have to rebalance its military capabilities toward a future force that has a wide range of utility”.
“This,” she continued, “must ensure future relevance and the ability to sustainably execute selected priority missions, perform core-mandated functions and provide value to South Africa as a developmental state”.
Her efforts to date to make the South African military machine a fully workable one include five steps, the first of which is a directive for specific cost savings to be implemented “over time” in the DoD personnel budget. Additional measures are to be put in place to ensure “rejuvenation” of the SANDF and “accommodation of voluntary separation of members wishing to do so”.
Secretary for Defence Gladys Kudjoe will, on Mapisa-Nqakula’s instruction, develop a departmental policy position on “an affordable level of defence ambition cognisant of funding challenges and emerging real and tangible threats to national security”.
A possible sign of the future came with her asking for “insight” to defence systems and capabilities that have to be decommissioned and the attached risk estimate in the interests of defence efficiency.
One of the first ministerial tasks awaiting new SANDF Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, when he takes office next month is finalisation of a “blue print force design”.
“Additionally, I indicated the command and staff structure of the SANDF will have to change if we are to ensure improved efficiency and effectiveness in future. To this end, we should focus on implementation as soon as is practically possible.”
Mapisa-Nqakula is spreading the net wider to include the local defence industry and told Armscor chief executive Solomzi Mbada she needs “a pragmatic recommendation” for modernisation of the SANDF under “current fiscal and industry constraints”.
Mbada’s defence and security acquisition agency will also provide advice on “relationships that must be developed in support of the level of defence ambition and affordable force design supporting it”.
“In short, we are looking for a pragmatic, affordable and focused response from industry,” she said.