South Africa’s defence budget has, according to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, “been cut beyond the bone” with major acquisition projects for the landward and maritime forces under “serious threat” of reaching completion.
This was part of more sombre content when she introduced the budget adjustment vote of her department to Parliament on Thursday.
Bemoaning continued reductions to the defence budget, Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out the situation would “continue having an adverse effect on SA National Defence Force (SANDF) capability, sustainability and the modernisation of defence prime mission equipment as well as the defence industry as a whole”.
Armscor also feels the pain with the State-owned defence and security acquisition agency having to deal with a major reduction – from 39 down to 15 – in projects for the current financial year.
The outlook is even gloomier for the next financial reporting period when the Armscor project list will not contain a single item.
Mapisa-Nqakula went on to inform elected public representatives that defence budget reductions will also negatively affect the Defence Review 2015. Her department is currently working on Milestone One of the review compiled under the chairmanship of Roelf Meyer with the Minister indicating stormy seas ahead when it comes to arresting the decline in capability of South Africa’s armed forces.
“There will also be general loss of capacity in the defence industry as a result of reduced DoD spend. Between 2017 and 2020 there were revenue losses of up to R7 billion – a significant dent in the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The workforce (in the local defence industry) declined from 15 000 to 12 000 in the same period.
“These developments will result in an inability to meet future SANDF requirements for critical capabilities. It will also hamper support to national government imperatives and implementation of the Defence Review 2015 as adopted by Parliament and meant to be a blueprint for the future SANDF,” she said.
The ongoing border protection tasking, executed under Operation Corona, is an example of reduced funding affecting operational efficiency.
“We have over the years indicated for effective border safeguarding we need at least 22 companies, but we have 15 and will not have that in the foreseeable future given the continued budget decline.
“This situation is directly affected by the cost of employees and the reality of the budget deficit we operate under,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
In his response, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais acknowledged “declining budget allocations” as contributing to the sorry state the national defence force finds itself it. He added poor management, prioritisation of expenses and focus by the Executive, including the Ministry and the Presidency, and defence management, including the Secretary for Defence, CSANDF and senior management are contributing factors “not to be ignored”.
“I have raised the need for urgent and decisive interventions and while the Defence Minister acknowledges the need to review the mandate and focus, it does not seem there is any appetite for this from either the Minister or the DoD.”
He points out the defence budget is in “a desperate situation with an expected R3 billion overrun mainly as a result of human resource costs, now more than 60% of budget compared to the 40% prescribed by National Treasury and the 2015 Defence Review”.
“The emergency budget will exacerbate this predicament where firstly the DoD requested R4.5 billion in additional funds, secondly treasury approved an additional R4.1 billion and thirdly only R2.88 billion will be new funding.
“In reality, the DoD will experience an additional shortfall of R1.6 billion which must be added to the original R3 billion.”
Marais said the once proud air force and navy fleets are falling apart due to elimination of the Special Defence Account (SDA) and it does not look like projects Biro and Hotel will be completed. He said the additional demand using soldiers to fight the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate deterioration of “a once proud defence force” and suggested the SANDF role in Operation Notlela be scaled down.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) Washington Tseko Mafanya said Mapisa-Nqakula failed to rejuvenate the SANDF and rejected the minister’s budget vote. Similarly, Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald said the defence budget was inadequate and although the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Russel Cebekhulu supported the revised budget, he said the R2.88 billion increase does not align with current deployments and warned costs will continue to climb.