SA Navy Admiral highlights need for funding and collaboration

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Rear Admiral David Mkhonto, Chief Director of Maritime Strategy for the South African Navy, addressed the Oceans Economy Conference and Expo in Cape Town last week with a powerful call to action, urging South Africa to harness its maritime resources responsibly and strategically to foster economic growth and national security.

The conference provided a platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by South Africa’s ocean economy. Mkhonto emphasised the direct relationship between security and economic development, stating: “An absence of security gives rise to low economic development, weak state institutions and an incapable state. The converse also holds: stability and security create conditions conducive to economic development, prosperity and the well-being of the people.”

Despite the vast economic potential of South Africa’s marine areas, the Admiral acknowledged the existing governance gaps and security issues, particularly in the fishing sector. He emphasized the need for effective management and stronger national presence to address these marine challenges.

Stressing that national security is not about creating a security state but rather about fostering conditions for prosperity, Mkhonto said: “South Africa is a developing country with scarce resources and increasing demand for those resources. It is a country that urgently requires economic growth, employment opportunities and the capacity to earn and save foreign investments. The South African marine area has huge economic potential, and this industry is well-positioned to satisfy these demands.”

“Colleagues, allow me to reiterate the words of Sir Walter Raleigh when he said that those who have control over the sea also have control over global trade, and those who control global trade have control over the world’s wealth and ultimately the globe itself,” he said, stressing the timeless relevance of maritime dominance.

He lamented the lack of progress in developing effective strategies to harness the country’s ocean economic potential sustainably, despite former president Nelson Mandela’s visionary statements during the International Fleet Review in April 1997.

Highlighting the critical role of the South African Navy, Mkhonto explained the Navy’s mission to safeguard maritime national interests and support the ocean economy.

“The SA Navy’s mission is to safeguard the seas and promote the success of Operation Phakisa through the Enforcement and Compliance Initiative 5,” he explained. “This involves working closely with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), South African Police Service, State Security Agency and other maritime security stakeholders to ensure the safety and security of our waters.”

The South African Navy’s strategic approach is to return the Navy to its greatness, which focuses on two elements, namely achieving domain awareness and domain response.

Explaining the SA Navy’s strategic approach, Mkhonto said that “having a keen sense of what’s happening along the coast and in the surrounding seas is crucial for Domain Awareness. And when the need arises, it’s all about promptly and effectively responding to the situation at hand.”

However, Mkhonto voiced significant concerns over the potential consequences of defunding the Navy. “Defunding the SA Navy presents a rather worrisome national security threat,” he emphasised. “It’s quite a worrisome action, as it weakens the government’s capacity to meet its responsibilities of safeguarding the nation and maintaining its sovereignty.”

He addressed the suggestion of outsourcing maritime security to private entities with strong opposition, highlighting the Navy’s irreplaceable role: “The SA Navy will never agree to outsource our constitutional mandate: It is our sovereign right, it is our inherent right, it is our responsibility (and) it is our exclusive right.”

The Navy’s presence is crucial in facilitating transport, enabling logistics and promoting tourism at sea. Without adequate funding, the Navy’s ability to maintain the stability and efficiency of maritime transportation, which supports and enhances trade and commerce, would be compromised.

Mkhonto advocated for increased collaboration with regional navies and participation in international exercises to address maritime security challenges. He emphasized the need for regional cooperation while cautioning against over-reliance on external aid.

A systematic approach to support both small-scale and commercial fishing is required, reduce foreign fishing agreements and enhance enforcement of fishery laws. He emphasized the need for more patrol ships, harbour patrol boats and supporting tugs to ensure maritime safety and create jobs.