SANDF at 30: Modise highlights the SA military’s role in national and international security

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In a wide-ranging media briefing on Sunday 19 May, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thandi Modise, outlined the state of defence in the country 30 years after the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) came into existence.

She spoke just ten days before national elections scheduled for 29 May, after which a new administration is to be sworn in, and nearly a month after the 30 year anniversary of the creation of the SANDF in April 1994.

“Thirty years on, the country can look back with pride on the achievements and challenges since the dawn of democracy and the establishment of the SANDF,” she said. “The SANDF has become the defence force of the nation fully representative of its people.”

She felt that much has been achieved, especially for women in all branches of the defence force and international peace support operations.

“A first initiative was to transform the gender, racial and cultural landscape of the new defence force, as the military could hardly be defenders of the democracy if it did not reflect its values,” the minister said.

In referring to South Africa’s international obligations and peace support operations, she said some were undertaken “reluctantly, some a ‘must’, but these operations led to a national defence force that has all-round experience.”

In support of government policy positions, South Africa has participated in more than 15 peace missions since 1994. These included United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) missions, among others in Lesotho, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, the Comoros and Liberia.

As the international community and Africa recognise the need for security, prosperity and sustainability on the African continent, South Africa contributes to United Nations, African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) security initiatives. This is evidenced by the two recent SADC-led missions in the DRC (SAMIDRIC) and Mozambique (SAMIM).

In both Mozambique and the DRC, a draw-down is underway, with SAMIM coming to an end in July and the UN-led mission MONUSCO ending in December.

However, there are still two military contingents of South African soldiers in the DRC, namely those forming part of MONUSCO ending later this year, and the new SADC-led force. The latter comprises 2 900 SANDF personnel, of which approximately one-third has already been deployed.

She denied the accuracy of media reports of a lack of resources, notably sufficient medical and ablution facilities, as well as fresh food provisions, for those soldiers. “Those media reports were not factual, and as for fresh produce, it is sourced at the point of deployment in the DRC.”

Logistic support for the SADC-led mission (SAMIDRIC) is the responsibility of the SADC, the minister explained.

Responding to a question from defenceWeb about the chartering of Russian and Angolan Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft, the minister said it was the SADC which pays for the charters as part of the logistical operations.

Internal security and disaster management

Minister Modise highlighted some of the SANDF’s support for domestic security, saying it had returned to border safeguarding in 2010.

Army sub-units are currently deployed in border safeguarding in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North-West provinces. Border safeguarding also includes maritime patrols, involving the South African Navy’s new patrol boats, which will soon be augmented by an additional vessel.

The SANDF also provides support to the South African Police Service (SAPS), with interventions to combat gang violence in the Western Cape province, truck torching and sabotage of strategic installations.

The minister was emphatic that the SANDF was now prepared for civil upheavals like the 2021 July unrest and would be ready to assist the SAPS in preventing similar incidents.

In light of several natural disaster incidents, she indicated that a dedicated disaster management structure is soon to be established.

“The SANDF has been working with COGTA (department of cooperative government and traditional affairs) and the national Treasury on disaster management,” she explained. “An announcement on this new structure will be made in the next week.”

Relooking the budget

The minister briefly touched on the budget allocation for defence, saying over the past 30 years the SANDF has become a real asset and will continue to grow. As the new administration is about to come in, the budget will hopefully be reconsidered, as her department has been doing internally recently.

Much work has already been done on the 2015 Defence Review and the proposals were shared with the President. She expressed the hope the financial situation for defence will look better in future.