Defence, as has become the norm when the Commander-in-Chief in his Presidential guise gives South Africans some insight of what to expect from government in his State of the Nation Address (SONA), was again this year the poor relation.
President Cyril Ramaphosa alluded – briefly – twice to defence in its broadest sense. The first when he said more effort would go into border protection and the second when he mentioned a new management model for State-owned Enterprises (SOEs), including Denel.
“Defence again is apparently not a priority for the ruling party,” was how opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais summed up last Thursday’s just over an hour-long address to an almost empty National Assembly and a national virtual audience of parliamentarians, academics, researchers, media and Mr and Mrs John Citizen.
His disappointment stems from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s claims of meeting Ramaphosa as regards “more and better funding” for the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Similar meetings were reportedly held with National Treasury. “We heard of commitments to increased funding. SONA showed it was in vain.”
Marais has two questions for the long-serving Mapisa-Nqakula and Ramaphosa.
“Is the defence of South Africa’s sovereignty and the safety of its citizens of any importance to government? Or, were the President and the Finance Minister (Tito Mboweni) leading the Defence Minister down the proverbial garden path?”
He was hoping – “but not really expecting” – Ramaphosa to shed some light on, among others, the necessity of a well-resourced national defence force.
The national border protection tasking – Operation Corona – according to Marais is one SANDF tasking illustrating the importance of a properly funded and personnel-sourced deployment equipped with the right equipment.
“It would have been wonderful if the President used SONA to announce an increase in the number of companies on land border protection. Protection of these borders has been emphasised over and over and an increase to 25 companies from the current 15 would have been good, especially if accompanied by a further allocation for force multipliers. That nothing was said is a huge disappointment and a further indication of the low priority given to the SANDF by government,” he said.
Marais was critical of Ramaphosa’s use of the military, particularly during the stricter lockdown levels of the national state of disaster, without any additional funding. “I was hoping he would indicate when the SANDF is employed additional funding will be provided. For all employments to assist the SAPS, funding had to be sourced from the existing, diminished defence budget. This will further exacerbate deterioration of the SANDF and its defence capabilities.”
“My hopes for at least some defence allegiance, not necessarily in any great detail, were in vain. It doesn’t make me optimistic for any good news on defence funding when the Finance Minister delivers his budget next week.”