Mapisa-Nqakula evasive in some of 500 responses to Parliamentary questions

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Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula provided written answers to more than 500 questions during the life of the now ended Fifth South African Parliament.

By far the majority of questions posed to the civilian head of the South African military came from the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) with that party’s shadow defence and veterans ministers – Kobus Marais and Shahid Esau – leading the way. This is according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) which earlier this month issued its review of the Fifth Parliament. Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald also questioned the Minister on numerous occasions, often with regard to stolen military armament and other equipment.

It was Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s second term in the National Assembly as she took office after replacing Lindiwe Sisulu in June 2012.

The temporary hangar queen status of the official President aircraft – Inkwazi – was the subject of many questions as was the cost of charters to ensure then President Jacob Zuma could meet his international commitments. These included the use of the former Gupta bizjet ZS-OAK. One answer revealed more than R30 million was spent on chartering suitable aircraft for presidential use in the 2016/17 financial year.

A Groenewald question regarding the theft of R5 rifles and military equipment from soldiers on guard duty at Tempe military base outside Bloemfontein brought to light findings of the board of inquiry looking into the matter. He submitted the question to the Minister on 6 May 2016 – just on a year after the incident – and was informed the board completed its work in October 2015 finding the loss of weapons and equipment was valued at over R18 000 and no arrests made. The board also found “the training of protection services guards were (sic) not up to standard in this particularly incident”.

Many responses given are evasive with the Minister quoting security and the need for in camera discussions at defence portfolio committee meetings. One example is “due to security sensitivity, the response can only be disclosed in a closed session of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence”. This, after a Parliamentarian wanted to know the total number of artillery pieces in the SA National Defence Force and whether “each piece is functional”.

Another MP wanting to know the total number of “submarines and vessels” in the SA Navy as well as their purpose and whether they were functional was also given the “closed session of the Standing Committee on Defence” treatment with the addition that the question related to “strategic sensitive security capabilities of the SANDF”. An attempt to establish aircraft numbers in the SA Air Force (SAAF) suffered the same fate.

Mapisa-Nqakula also used court cases as a way out of direct answers. One example of this was her informing Congress of the People (COPE) leader, Mosiuoa Lekota, she could not provide details about evictions from Marievale military base.

“This matter is subject to ongoing litigation and once resolved the questions posed can be responded to” she told the man who was once in her position. As far as can be ascertained, there is still no final decision on the eviction or not of civilians from the base in eastern Gauteng, despite numerous appearances in the Gauteng North High Court brought by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

Another MP wanted to know what the total number of military bases in the country is as well as the size of the base and the number of troops stationed at each.

He was told there are 335 military units in the SANDF with a total strength of 63 761 uniformed personnel of which 16 705 are troops (riflemen, privates, airmen and sailors) as of November 28 last year. The Minister did not provide information about base numbers and size.

Asked by another MP last October in which “combat zones” South African troops were deployed, Mapisa-Nqakula said “zero troops are deployed in any combat zone”.