Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, believes that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is moved from being a mandate driven defence force to a funding driven defence force, meaning the SANDF is now driven by what its funding allows instead of what mandate has been given to it. A reflection of this can be seen in the Department of Defence (DoD) not reaching the 2015 Defence Review milestones.
On 21 May, three days after Mapisa-Nqakula delivered her budget speech, the University of Stellenbosch held a virtual thinktank session that investigated the future of what a budget driven SANDF might translate to.
The Department of Defence (DoD), for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, will have to work with a budget that is 0.86% of the GDP (R46.2 billion). This is a 14% decrease from the previous financial year and with a substantial amount going towards compensation of employees (upwards of 60%), it makes sense that Mapisa-Nqakula would say that the SANDF is now a budget driven defence force.
“Since 2015, the bulk of the discussions in National Treasury have been centred around the defence review and dealing with compensation of employee challenges within the defence force,” said Mashudu Bidzha from the public finance division of National Treasury. “We agree with most of what it (the 2015 Defence Review) says, however it is a good policy that came at the wrong time. The reality is that there was just no money, it was not affordable to implement certain milestones of the defence review,” Bidzha said.
He mentioned that issues around the Department of Defence are not necessarily related to funding, citing R50 billion as no small number to work with. Bidzha then posed the question of whether the SANDF should still be in the Democratic Republic of Congo under the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, saying the resources spent in the DRC could be relocated to other security challenges closer to home, like the current situation in Mozambique.
Francois Vrey, professor emeritus at the military science faculty at the University of Stellenbosch, is concerned with how long term this outlook of the SANDF is. “There needs to be a process where alternative futures are being developed because uncertainty and the fact that military forces do not change quickly is an imperative for decision makers around policy,” Frey said.
On a more positive note, Bidzha mentioned that over the last fiscal year, almost half a billion rand has been retained from UN reimbursements and that there is some agreement with the DoD and National Treasury to retain a percentage of the money from the sale of DoD assets. “But the disappointment albeit, especially on the issue of disposal of non-core assets and the sweating of assets, our (National Treasury) view is that defence has been a bit slow in that regard.
The sentiment in the webinar was that the DoD is going to need to either adjust the type of defence force it seeks to have, including more realistic goals, or come up with a new plan altogether. Either way, the DoD may be falling victim to its own status quo of being a South African government owned entity, meaning its compensation or cost of employees is bloated, it is inefficient and hardly meets its targets.