Defence minister expects more from SA defence attaches


Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has said she expects more from South Africa’s defence attaches. She was speaking at the fourth South African defence attache conference this week.

The conference is being held at the Saint George’s Hotel and Conference Centre and will be running for the next four days. It was opened by the Minister on 14 October.

The introduction of Mapisa-Nqakula’s speech was focused on the challenges of defence attaches executing their tasks in the changing global, continental and regional environment as well as asking serious questions about the effectiveness and ability of the South African defence attaches.

There are currently some 60 South African defence attaches across the globe, most of whom were present at the conference.

Mapisa-Nqakula went onto discuss how important defence attaches are in enabling the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in making the correct decisions in the SANDF’s engagement with other countries. Similarly, in highlighting that defence attaches unable to fulfil their mandate lead to weak and ineffective intervention, the defence minister issued a warning about the current conduct of certain attaches in stating, “Do not think that we are not watching.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said that she found in certain instances, the nature and calibre of defence attaches is not up to the task. She went onto state that, “With this said, some amongst us have not acquitted themselves well, and I have taken the decision that they shall be withdrawn with immediate effect.”

Ensuring professionalism is at an all-time high is key for the SANDF, said Mapisa-Nqakula, as well as ensuring leadership pays attention to the nomination, selection, preparation and ultimately the deployment of attaches. There also neds to be a thorough understanding of the attache’s host country and sub-region. A return on investment of the attaches was also mentioned, with the Minister stating that the SANDF should not deploy attaches who will retire upon return. Defence Intelligence must also assign specific responsibilities to the attaches in the country they get stationed. Gender representativity is also important.

The minister summed up by saying, “our defence attaches must serve with distinction and become the envy of the rest of the staff in the diplomatic mission, not the scourge thereof.”

Defence attaches play an important role in contributing to government’s foreign policy objectives. Of South Africa’s attache representation in 60 countries, this includes full-time representation at both the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa at United Nations headquarters in New York.

The number of defence attaches at South African embassies and/or high commissions in foreign countries is 40, less than half the total number of South African foreign missions.

Senior SANDF officers hold defence attache postings in Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Italy, Kenya, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, South Sudan, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, the United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Additionally, South Africa has non-residential defence attache status with the European Union as well as Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uruguay.

The 62 senior officers filling defence attache positions are based at South African embassies and high commissions but the country’s total foreign military representation is a long way off the 104 foreign missions South Africa maintains.

Apart from these, South Africa has other diplomatic representation in the form of 16 consulates and/or consulates general; 97 honorary consulates, honorary consulates general and honorary consular agencies; two liaison offices and 68 non-resident accredited representatives. None of these, according to the latest Department of Defence annual report, have any military representation.

Fifty-nine countries had resident military attache and advisor corps representatives in South Africa for the period under review with three – Australia, Israel and Kuwait – having non-resident representatives.

Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, China, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, South Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe all had military representatives resident in South Africa for the period under review.