SANDF would have enough money if it wasn’t for theft and corruption

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There is much discussion about the declining South African National Defence Force (SANDF) budget, which is unlikely to increase, but the military would have enough funding if there was not so much corruption and theft in government.

This is according to Mohammed Rafeek Shah, ActionSA’s ‘Team Fix South Africa’ member for Defence, who was speaking at the inaugural AMD National Security and Safety Townhall event, which took place in Johannesburg on Wednesday night. It afforded South Africa’s political parties the chance to explain their positions on defence and national security ahead of the 29 May government elections.

“Everyone talks about increasing the defence budget,” Shah told assembled guests at Workshop 17 in Sandton, but because of competing needs for social spending, it’s impossible to argue for an increased defence budget.

“The simple answer is stop stealing the money!” Shah said. “If we could stop stealing, I think there would be the money.”

According to government figures in 2017, corruption costs the SA Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at least R27 billion annually, although some estimates have suggested this is far more – for example, Unite 4 Mzansi – an initiative led by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) – in 2021 estimated that South Africa lost R1.5 trillion through corruption between 2014 and 2019.

A common argument when it comes to defence spending is that spending on social programmes such as education and healthcare should take precedence. “There are competing needs, for social needs vs defence. But you are eroding defence capability,” Shah said. “If you have cut the defence budget, savings are not showing elsewhere – where has that money gone?” he asked.

According to Shah, ActionSA would like to see a strong defence force capable of filling its mandate in the region and continentally, along with a robust defence industry that has money to spend on research and development, especially to meet the modern technological threats being encountered during peacekeeping missions on the continent.

Shah said ActionSA wants to increase the defence budget, modernise the SANDF through new acquisitions to address emerging threats, maintain existing equipment, and ensure adequate resources for peacekeeping operations. A new defence review is required along with a force design to address the changing nature of warfare. The SANDF needs to be restructured as there are ‘too many chiefs and too few Indians.’

With regard to security, the South African Police Service (SAPS) needs to be fixed, along with Home Affairs and the intelligence agencies. Intelligence gathering capabilities also need to be improved, Shah maintains.

As for border security, Shah believes it is important to balance national security with human rights, and ActionSA “has no problem with immigration,” as long as it is done legally. He said part of the problem is that it is often difficult for travellers to enter South Africa legally, and easier to come in illegally. “Let’s allow people who add value, and keep out criminals and those who eat into our social resources.” Reducing corruption on the borders would help tremendously with illegal immigration, he believes.

“We can’t compromise development over defence,” Shah told Townhall attendees, but asked why those two can’t go together. “No country can flourish and no economy can develop without the rule of law,” Shah emphasised, and this extends to territorial integrity, the protection of civil rights, international diplomacy etc. Citizens should not have to live in fear and anxiety, he added.

“There’s a lot that is broken,” Shah said, adding that, “we don’t wish to politicise national security. We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom,” and the private security industry, community policing, and organs of civil society also have roles to play when it comes to ensuring safety and security.

View the full Townhall debate here.