In yet another broadside at Denel and its sole shareholder – the South African government – Isaac Mashaba, a regular commentator on government’s achievements and “challenges”, uses The Citizen to claim the State-owned defence and technology conglomerate is living proof of “a strategic disaster”.
He writes: “The hollowing-out and bankrupting of the South African arms industry, under the leaky umbrella of Denel, was a strategic disaster South Africa could ill afford”.
“What was once a world-renowned and trusted supplier of defence equipment is now a rotting carcass. This giant and strategic SOE (State-owned enterprise) has, like many before it, been hollowed out and driven to the point of collapse. As a result of incompetence, mismanagement, a lack of leadership and corruption, it morphed into a starving shell of its former self, unable to even pay its employees.
“A nation is only prepared for conflict and war if its defence industry is correctly structured, innovative, functional and profitable. This is an indication of how secure it is and how efficiently and rapidly it can equip and sustain its security forces when they are called to operational duty.
“It is also a major foreign currency earner and can be successfully utilised by government to project influence.
“The defence industry not only equips the armed forces to counter a host of diverse threats, but also drives technical and scientific innovation.
“It encourages strong public-private partnerships and entrepreneurship.
“It generates foreign income with export sales. It employs thousands and creates a multitude of new jobs.
“This presupposes government and its defence policies are forward thinking and guided and directed by sound and credible political forecasting. It presupposes there is a national strategy focussed on security and socio-economic strategies and plans that benefit the entire country.
“Not only has government sabotaged and wrecked this valuable strategic asset, but it also drove South African defence innovation to foreign shores where our scientists and technologists are welcomed and in high demand.
“It furthermore sold off defence elated intellectual property and manufacturing facilities that took years and many millions of taxpayers Rand to develop and refine. Those elements of Denel not sold off, were hollowed out and neglected to the point they cannot be replicated. This smacks of something very wrong in our collapsed defence industry. And the question must surely be asked: Who benefits? It is certainly not South Africa.
“The planned replacement of the Ratel infantry fighting vehicle was an expensive import to be built domestically. Known as the Badger, R7.6 billion is already spent but with no vehicles. Surely this is an indicator of something very, very wrong with what is happening in Denel and other SOEs.
“Perhaps the aim is to equip the SANDF with commercial vehicles and expect them to conduct real military tasks.
“While government has focussed its attentions on non-relevant matters and non-entities of no value to South Africa and its citizens, it has neglected Africa. In the process, it lost the trust of the continent along with the ability to project any form of defence or industrial power.
“As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues so too does the requirement for defence equipment escalate.
“Africa has long been a buyer of equipment from Russia and Ukraine and this war will result in many problems in purchasing spare parts, ammunition and support to maintain equipment from those countries.”
“Had Denel not been wilfully destroyed,” Mashaba postulates, “South Africa would have a perfect opportunity to not only boost our defence industry but play an important role in assisting and supporting African armies refurbish and maintain their equipment. It would have been a perfect opportunity to assist those governments with new equipment – ‘proudly made in South Africa’ – as well”.
“Government chose to ignore the plight of Africa. Instead of focusing on securing our own defence industry along with an important role on the African continent government believed if one drank tea and did nothing, there would never be a threat.
“While government chose to continually exercise its strategic short-sightedness the rest of the world didn’t. Instead, our military experts, scientists, and technicians were recruited by governments to do what South Africa should have been doing.
“This lack of forward thinking opened doors to numerous foreign defence contractors and companies. They identified potential problems Africa will soon be facing and have no doubt already made the necessary approaches and contacts.
“By failing to recognise an important market, both government and Denel disadvantaged themselves, the nation, our armed forces, our economy, our industries and the continent.”