Extension of SANDF deployments in Mozambique and DRC to cost R2 billion

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has extended the deployments of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique Channel for another year, at a cost of R2 billion.

In letters dated 6 April to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Ramaphosa detailed the deployment extensions and their associated costs. He authorised Operation Vikela, the deployment of troops to Mozambique in support of the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), to be extended from 16 April 2023 to 15 April 2024, at a cost of R984 million.

Ramaphosa stated that up to 1 495 members of the SANDF would be deployed to help Mozambique combat acts of terrorism and violent extremists affecting the northern part of the country.

Also taking place in the region of Mozambique is Operation Copper, the SA Navy’s mission to monitor and deter piracy activities along the southern African coast of the Indian Ocean. Ramaphosa authorised the deployment from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024 of 200 personnel, at a cost of R35 million, for this.

Operation Copper deployments have been intermittent in recent years due to lack of resources and other commitments and cost R8.3 million in 2019; R5.9 million in 2020; and R31 000 in 2021.

The SANDF’s most costly international deployment is to the DRC (Operation Mistral), which will use an estimated R1.035 billion between 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024. Ramaphosa authorised the employment of 1 198 members of the SANDF to serve with the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) to disarm, neutralise and prevent the expansion of armed groups.

Operation Mistral cost R801 million in 2019; R637 million in 2020; R691 million in 2021; and R674 million in 2022.

The extensions come as the SANDF is spending an ever-larger amount on unplanned ad-hoc deployments to deal with natural disasters and civil unrest, amongst others. Since 2019, ad-hoc deployments have included the repatriation of South African citizens from China (Operation Ditaba) in 2020 (R15.5 million), Operation Notlela (Covid-19 response – R876 million in 2020), Operation Ligcoco in 2020/21 and 2022 (citizen repatriation – R9 million plus), 2019 flood relief in Mozambique (R8.5 million), Malawi flood relief the same year (R7.7 million) and Zimbabwe flood relief, also the same year, (R34 million). Responding to flooding in KwaZulu-Natal in 2022 cost R135 million.

Following the July 2021 unrest in South Africa, Operation Prosper expenditure amounted to R416 million. Also under Operation Prosper, deployment of troops to protect Eskom installations cost R37 million in 2022.

Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) noted, since 2019, “an amplified reliance on the SANDF for internal support to other government departments as well as external conventional military support.” This has included the 2018 to 2019 deployment of SANDF engineers to address the pollution of the Vaal River; the 2019 deployment with the SA Police Service to combat crime in the Western Cape; several largescale deployments in 2020 and 2021 as part of efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic; largescale deployments in 2021 to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in response to widespread civil unrest; and the 2022 deployments to KwaZulu-Natal following flooding in the province.

“It must be noted that internal deployments of the SANDF in support of the Police or other government departments is aligned to its Constitutional mandate of the Force. However, the SANDF may not be fully suited, trained, funded and equipped for these internal deployments,” the JSCD noted. “Increased deployments of the SANDF under these condition place significant strain on the force to maintain high levels of defence readiness. It also impacts negatively on training schedules as well the Department of Defence’s budget.

“In addition, equipment and other hardware utilised in such deployments have a reduced lifespan and requires often costly repair and maintenance or replacement. These concerns are aggravated given that, in many instances, the levels of reimbursement that the Department of Defence receives for deployments are not fully aligned to actual expenditure, or reimbursements received very late in the financial year impacting on budgeting and planning. Extended and regular internal non-military deployments further have the potential to detract from efforts of the SANDF to maintain a conventional military defence-readiness posture,” the JSCD stated.