Feature: South Africans must decide on the defence force they want, using what information?


Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is on record as saying “South Africans must decide on the defence force they want” and while the concept is good, execution is poor due to the lack of information about what the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is and what it does using which types of equipment and platforms.

This lack of information goes even further when looking at political party manifestos for the national and provincial elections that took place in May this year. With the exception of Pieter Groenewald’s Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and general references to national security and sovereignty in the Democratic Alliance (DA) document, South Africa’s airmen, military medics, sailors and soldiers could be “little green men from Mars” to the wider South African public.

Contrast this with the United Kingdom where voters go to the polls in 12 December in what is being called the “Brexit election” by every man and his dog.

Army Technology reviewed the manifestos of parties involved in the upcoming poll and reviewed defence spending pledges of six major parties.

Findings are:

The Labour Party is committed to maintaining defence spending of at least two percent of GDP, as the NATO recommended level, which it would accompany with increased spending on UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

Labour will also publish a white paper on defence industrial strategy, including a national shipbuilding strategy. These plans will commit the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary to building all ships in the UK.

The Conservatives say they will exceed the minimum two percent of GDP defence spending target and increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation for every year of the new parliament. This includes a pledge to modernise and invest in training and equipping the armed forces.

The Tory manifesto says: “We will support the UK’s world-class defence industry by investing in ambitious global programmes, including building the new Type 31 frigates in British shipyards such as Rosyth and a new generation of armoured vehicles, made in Britain.”

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto commits it to spending two percent of GDP on defence, which it will bolster with an extra £3 billion throughout parliament for the armed forces, which it says will be funded by remaining in the EU.

The manifesto says the Lib Dems want to promote and institute an international treaty governing use of technology in a warfare setting. It adds the UK needs to “recognise the expansion of warfare into the cyber sphere by investing in our security and intelligence services and acting to counter cyberattacks.”

Plaid Cymru wants to scrap Trident, describing it as an “ineffective and unnecessary nuclear weapons system.” The party is committed to blocking renewal of the nuclear deterrent and would resist all attempts to deploy the UK’s nuclear arsenal in Wales. It wants to work with the UK government on cyber-defence to protect Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom from online threats.

The Brexit Party says it will ensure the UK’s continued relationship with NATO and keep defence spending in line with the recommended two percent of GDP as “an absolute minimum.”

The party says they will also withdraw the UK from the European Defence Union, along with EU defence procurement directives, as a means to ensure defence contracts stay in the UK.

The Green Party manifesto commits it to replacing the Ministry of Defence with a “Ministry for Security and Peace” with a core mission of peace enforcement. The focus of the new ministry would be defending environments from the effects of “climate chaos” and working to support areas suffering from humanitarian crises as a result of “climate-related disasters.”

While political party manifestos often do not become reality post-election, the amount of information given to the United Kingdom voting population ahead of the 12 December election is far, far more than what South Africans had before they went to the polls on 8 May.

On the operational side, the SANDF has a website and is “active” on social media. These platforms are widely seen as the most used by people seeking information on various subjects, including defence.

On the website, among others, the “newest” information from the SA Army relates to a simulation seminar held in September 2017. The SA Air Force portal informs visitors: “This website is currently unavailable, come back later”. At the time of publication the advisory had been on the page for four weeks.

Many South Africans are quick to call for defence spending cuts and for the government to prioritise social welfare spending, saying South Africa is not at war. They are largely unaware of the peacetime roles, generally referred to as OOTW (Operations Other Than War) the national defence force fills. These including international peacekeeping, currently confined to Africa and part of South Africa’s foreign policy, border security (land and sea), supporting the South African Police Service (SAPS) when required, disaster relief (most recently in Mozambique post-Cyclone Idai) and supporting other government departments, for instance in rehabilitating the Vaal River water treatment infrastructure and providing healthcare professionals to staff hospitals in North West.

The South African defence industry has been urged to lobby to ensure its continued survival and the same needs to be done by the Department of Defence and the SANDF. Without explaining why they are needed, they will never receive the political or public support required to continue as a fighting force.
With the defence budget shrinking and the military warning the air force will become an air wing, the Army a border guard and the Navy a coast guard, it has never been more urgent for the military to sell itself and lobby the public and officialdom as well as political parties as to why it’s necessary to have a functioning and operational peacetime defence force.