Defence Minister’s intermediary force suggestion draws flak


An apparent need for a “special intermediary force” to handle violence and unrest inside South Africa suggested by new Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise shows government is not closing the door on further violent civil unrest in the wake of July’s events in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

This observation comes from Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance shadow minister for Modise’s portfolio. He maintains any addition to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and SA Police Service (SAPS) – widely accepted as South Africa’s security service, along with the various intelligence agencies – is both bad and misplaced.

He is not the only defence watcher in South Africa to disagree with the new Minister, in office since early August. Jakkie Cilliers, head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), maintains what he calls a “gendarmerie option” could help but there will be “substantial implications” for the SANDF.

Even more outspoken is a former SA Army senior officer who has no hesitation in saying Modise is flying a kite.

“To propose a gendarmerie is delicious irony,” he said, adding by way of explanation he was involved in drafting a plan to establish “a third force” between the military and police in 1985. Aimed at dealing with increased rioting and unrest “egged on” at that time by the UDF (United Democratic Front, a thinly disguised internal ANC organisation) the force was “shot down” by the then Minister of Police who established the riot police as a specialist unit in the then SA Police.

Marais sees a parallel with Modise’s “intermediary force” in a home guard, currently an SA Army Reserve project. The Reserves are integral to the SANDF one force doctrine and, according to him, are there to deal with current and future challenges in providing adequate numbers of soldiers for ordered commitments, both internally and externally. The Mzanzi Home Guard initiative, if it progresses, will see part-time soldiers used in intelligence gathering, critical infrastructure protection and other tasks.

“An intermediary force as another layer in the security cluster, to me, doesn’t appear to be dealing with the origin of violent civil unrest as experienced in July. What is needed is curbing unrest and public disorder which often manifests as service delivery protests turned violent.”

Funding any new security-type force will be “impractical, unsustainable and unaffordable over the short, medium and long term,” he told defenceWeb.

Cilliers’ summary is Modise inherited a run into the ground military. “At the same time, the performance of the much larger police service deteriorated despite substantial budgetary increases. A gendarmerie option could help, probably in a different format to France and with substantial implications for the national defence force.”

In line with Marais’ observation that government is not ruling out further unrest, Cilliers sees the need for “a considered analysis” of South Africa’s security challenges and “how, given budgetary constraints, they can be met”.

He sees the Presidentially appointed panel currently reviewing government response to July’s events as a possible base for analysis if it takes “a broad, strategic approach to the task at hand”.