SA Army’s Modern Brigade put to the test


The first South African Army Modern Brigade, designed to respond to modern threats such as asymmetric warfare, is flexing its muscles at the Combat Training Centre at Lohatla ahead of the establishment of two more Modern Brigades.

Nearly 4 800 personnel from 43 SA Brigade are taking part in the Northern Cape exercise, which is a chance for the SA Army to assess the status of combat readiness of the newly formed 1st Modern Brigade (Mechanised).

Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), General Rudzani Maphwanya, said a second Modern Brigade (Motorised) is being established in Bloemfontein and a third will be based in Pretoria. This is in response to the current security situation. SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, added that the Modern Brigade is cognisant of the asymmetric and terrorism threats to South Africa. “The Modern Brigade is called that to respond to modern threats,” he said.

Planning for Exercise Ukuthula began in April and advanced teams began arriving at Lohatla at the end of September, with the exercise proper kicking off towards the end of October. A visitors’ day on 9 November saw the media, defence attaches and dignitaries including Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla witness a capability demonstration involving dozens of armoured vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft defences and other SA Army equipment.

The field training exercise is a major component of the SA Army’s junior staff command course, with the next generation of landward operational unit commanders fine-tuning battle and management skills. These include conventional and peace support operations as well as borderline protection taskings.

Under one of the exercise scenarios demonstrated on 9 November, a fictional African country had requested Southern African Development Community (SADC) assistance to help it defeat a rebel insurgency. SA Army troops and equipment then engaged in various exercises against ‘enemy’ forces, with junior staff command course learners being trained using African Union, United Nations and SANDF procedures – the peace support operation scenario include humanitarian relief, mediation/negotiation and other procedures.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is taking part in Exercise Ukuthula as well, demonstrating intelligence sharing and coordination with the SANDF as well as joint operations (cordon and search, patrols, road blocks, crowd management etc.).

In his address to guests following Tuesday’s demonstration, Maphwanya said the execution of the SANDF’s tasks depends on regular integrated combat readiness exercises. “We understand the dictum that if you want peace, you have to prepare for war,” he said, adding that “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

He thanked participants for putting on a display that “can put shivers through the enemy” and also thanked troops deployed elsewhere, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He said they have put Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels there “on the back foot”, but warned the DRC’s M23 rebel group is rearing its head again, especially as they are aware of the Monusco drawdown. When Monusco withdraws, it’s Force Intervention Brigade, of which the SANDF is a part, “will be the last to leave.”

In addition to the DRC, Maphwanya mentioned other SANDF deployments, including with the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique; the COVID-19 response operation Notlela; border protection operation Corona; and internal security Operation Prosper that helped quell internal unrest in July.

He said the SANDF was criticized in some quarters for being heavy-handed by deploying military vehicles during Operation Prosper, but Maphwanya said it was the appropriate equipment as the unrest was quelled. “We never had a situation where we used equipment against our people. We were ready for those that wanted to undermine the rule of law.” He added that the SANDF will respond again if required.

In his address, Maphwanya said the declining defence budget is a challenge and urged political buy-in from the Department of Defence. “We need a defence force that is capacitated. The budget allocation is a priority…With a little support we can continue to ensure South Africa is secure and safe.”

Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla said “we are doing the best with the low level of resources available,” while Mbatha told the media that the SA Army can do better if the political will is there to support it.

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