Salaries still the biggest item in the defence budget


Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s maiden budget tabled in the National Assembly on Wednesday revealed over 60% of the defence allocation goes to salaries, but personnel numbers are premised to shrink.

The allocation to Minister Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) for compensation of employees (CoE) is set at R91.3 billion for the three-year medium term. Percentage-wise, this gobbles up 62.6% of the total medium term budget of R146.3 billion covering the 2022/23 financial year and the next two financial year reporting periods. The R91 billion plus figure includes R1.3 billion for the current financial year to cover “cost of living adjustments arising from the 2021 public sector wage agreement” according to the Defence Vote component of the National Budget.

“Human resource reforms” will, the Defence Vote has it, see CoE reduce by R4.5 billion over the medium term. With an additional R1.8 billion allocated by National Treasury over the same three year period for employee initiated severance packages and early retirement without pension benefit penalties, further savings are expected. These, the Defence Vote says, will enable the DoDMV to address “other cost pressures such as investments in technology to assist with border safeguarding and mid‐life upgrades of navy vessels”.

Envisaged human resource “reforms” will see SANDF personnel numbers drop to 72 597 from the current 73 153 – a 556 decrease.

On rejuvenating the SANDF into “a young and deployable” force, the Defence Vote sees the DoDMV “initiating” human resource reforms. These include reducing personnel, as older personnel exit and reducing Reserve Force “person days” from 2.6 million in 2021/22 to two million in 2024/25; recruiting Military Skills Development (MSD) system personnel every alternate year and capping all discretionary allowances.

Godongwana allocated a touch over R49 billion to defence for the 2022/23 financial year with CoE taking R30.1 billion – 62.49%. This is divided into eight sections covering administration, force employment, landward defence, air defence, maritime defence, military health support, defence intelligence and “general support” of R6.5 billion.

“South Africa’s national security hinges on the stability, unity and prosperity of the African continent, particularly the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. As such, the DoDMV will continue to participate in operations to support peace in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and northern Mozambique as part of the SADC standby force. These deployments assist the department in achieving 100% compliance with its SADC standby force pledge and external operations. To maintain these deployments, R2.7 billion is allocated over the medium term in the Force Employment programme.

“South Africa has a duty to safeguard its borders against transnational crime, international crime syndicates and cartels, the illegal flow of undocumented migrants and illicit economic activities. In fulfilling these duties over the MTEF period, the DoDMV will continue to deploy 15 landward sub-units along South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. For this purpose, R3.7 billion is allocated over the medium term in the Force Employment programme.

“Public unrest in July 2021 highlighted the need to strengthen law enforcement agencies, including the SANDF, to ensure they are equipped to respond quickly to such incidents. To this end, the department plans to set up a rapid response capability unit, which will support the SA Police Service (SAPS) when needed, with a brigade of between 2 000 and 5 000 soldiers comprising paratroopers and members of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS). The unit will be set up at a projected cost of R50 million in 2022/23 in the Force Employment programme,” according to the Defence Vote of the National Budget.

Darren Olivier, Director at African Defence Review (ADR), notes the SANDF budget is essentially cut in real terms, but with the rapid response capability unit, the SANDF has been handed another new mission. “But it has to be done with existing already-overstretched personnel numbers and with only a wholly inadequate R50 million extra. There are only 14 SANDF infantry battalions containing about 12 000 soldiers. You can muster another couple of thousand from other combat lines like artillery, armour, etc, and a few thousand from the reserves (which are being defunded). That’s too few for existing commitments.

“At any time about five battalions are committed to peacekeeping and border patrol, so you can’t use them and you also need units to rotate between operational deployments, training and R&R (rest and relaxation). The ideal ratio of deployed to home units is 1:3, which is already not being met. So having to dedicate 2 000 to 5 000 soldiers as standby for internal rapid response will screw up deployment and training rotations even more and will cost more than R50 million in terms of opportunity and retraining costs. It’s another terrible idea badly implemented.

“Of course, that’s without even addressing the real question of why we’re going in the direction of making the military more responsible for policing, a task it’s poorly suited to, rather than fixing the huge and longstanding problems in the national police service.

“The SANDF is increasingly used to cover for failures of other government departments, despite its operational budget and personnel numbers shrinking year after year. It’s not sustainable, and extremely risky,” Olivier maintains.