South Africa’s need for sovereign security has been emphasised by July’s civil unrest at home and the insurgency in Mozambique that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is helping fight, and demonstrates the need for a strong and well-resourced defence force.
This is according to the chair of the South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD), Sefale Montsi, who delivered the keynote address at the Sovereign Security Africa Conference on 19 August.
Montsi said the topics of civil unrest and terrorism are highly relevant following the violent unrest that affected KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in early July, and which caused between R35 and R50 billion in economic damage and the loss of nearly 350 lives.
A peaceful and secure South Africa is necessary for economic growth and prosperity and this requires the full capabilities of the south African defence and security industry to assist and support the SANDF, she said.
The Department of Defence works extremely hard for the people of South Africa, both internally and externally, Montsi emphasised. “We should also not forget that the SANDF played a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic – South African Medical Health Service personnel have, for example, deployed to public hospitals to help overburdened healthcare workers”.
The SANDF is a very active peacetime defence force, performing search and rescue, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and firefighting tasks, amongst many others, such as building bridges and helping out at hospitals.
Under Operation Prosper, 25 000 SANDF members have been assisting the police in ensuring civil unrest does not reoccur. The current Operation Prosper deployment – which has extended the deployment of 10 000 SANDF members – shows an adequately funded and well-equipped defence force is necessary, Montsi said, adding that the events of the past month have highlighted in great relief the need to shore up the sovereign security of South Africa.
Internally, another threat facing South Africa is cyber insecurity, which was brought to the fore by July’s cyber attack on Transnet. Montsi noted that maritime trade was disrupted by this attack, which affected financial losses across many sectors of the economy. “The container terminals in Cape Town stopped functioning. Authorities had to manually record vessel movements and container handling at Durban was affected significantly,” she said.
“The number of cyber attacks globally has been increasing, making cyber a key part of a national security strategy. We have seen increasing interest and investment in this space. Further, the physical and virtual security of our assets must be secured to fully realise their benefits in South Africa,” Montsi said.
Turning to outside the country, Montsi highlighted the role of the SANDF in peacekeeping missions across Africa. There are over a thousand soldiers deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on peacekeeping operations with the United Nations. “South Africa has an impressive record of peacekeeping on the continent. The Department of Defence has been involved in 14 peace missions since 1999 in Africa, with South Africa being one of the largest contributors to peace-keeping missions,” Montsi said, with deployments to Lesotho, Burundi, the Comoros, Sudan and the Central African Republic, amongst others.
Now the SANDF has been deployed to Mozambique to help quell its insurgency, along with other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and Rwanda. Up to 1 500 South African personnel are being deployed alongside forces from Botswana, Lesotho, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania and positive results are already being achieved by assisting forces, with the recapture of several important towns.
Montsi noted that Mozambique is a land of promise, with vast and largely untapped natural resources, including 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but energy giants Total and Exxon Mobil have paused multi-billion dollar energy projects in Mozambique until security is restored.
“The challenge presented since 2017 by insurgents who caused instability in Mozambique’s northern regions has the potential to destabilise the region and has disrupted the country’s oil and gas industry. South Africa and Mozambique’s other neighbours can ill afford the insurgency spilling over their borders or the impact of displaced people seeking refuge,” she said, adding that she is confident South African soldiers will serve with distinction in Mozambique.
A strong defence force needs a strong defence industry to support it, Montsi said. “AMD have noted with concern the decline of Denel, which has posted large annual losses and struggled to pay staff. The Department of Defence last year appointed a Save Denel technical team which supports Denel’s new five-year turnaround plan, which aims to return the State-Owned Entity to profitability within that timeframe.”
Stabilising Denel is one of the goals of the Aerospace and Defence Masterplan that is being executed. Montsi said other masterplan initiatives include enhancing funding and financial support for the industry, developing human capital and commercialising South African intellectual property in the sector, and developing a South African advanced research project agency.
“South Africa has been a world leader in the fields of artillery, self-protection systems, mine-detection vehicles, secure communications, electronic warfare and radar systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and guided weapons. This is a very vast industry that has been successful over many years. As part of the Masterplan development that AMD has taken part in, many initiatives have been identified to enhance export opportunities around these and other technologies.”
Montsi praised companies that have made commitments to participate in the Aerospace and Defence Masterplan. Some of these companies include Adept, Aerosud, Reutech, Rheinmetall Denel Munition, Sandock Austral, Paramount and GEW.
“It is in our interest, together with the DoD, to have a strong and agile aerospace and defence industry,” Montsi said, especially after the civil unrest, and with SADC forces at the beginning of their deployment in Mozambique.