Shoke bemoans shrinking defence budget as he bows out


Outgoing Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) General Solly Shoke’s parting words during a change of command parade in Pretoria today were that the SANDF needs to be better funded to meet threats such as the Mozambican insurgency.

After ten years in the post, Shoke handed over command to the newly appointed Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, during a change of command parade in Thaba Tshwane this morning. The ceremony was attended by President and Commander in Chief Cyril Ramaphosa and defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Maphwanya officially takes over from 1 June.

Speaking to the media, Shoke said the continued budget cuts are having a detrimental effect on South Africa’s security. “The challenge that we are having which pains me is the underfunding that we are experiencing, thus affecting our competencies. Because as you know, sometimes people don’t appreciate the relationship between the defence force and the military industry, and sovereign capabilities. I’m sure you are aware of what is happening at Denel. That has serious implications for the security of this country and the function of the South African National Defence Force, because if you don’t have sovereign capabilities, people who sell to you what they have and dictate to you what you must do.

“I’m sure as a nation we should be proud to be South Africans and be proud of our sovereignty so we can do things on our own without any limitations being placed on us.”

Shoke said the SANDF needs to be well funded to meet security threats, particularly the insurgency across the border in Mozambique. “Terrorism is a threat to all countries,” he said. “We should also ensure we are not taken by surprise. You know people sometimes take it [peace and security] for granted. There’s no economy in the world that will grow under an unstable environment because before investors can come they must be sure their investments are secure and there is security and peace. So we are worried [about the situation in Mozambique] and we are prepared for any eventuality. That is why we prepare for war in peacetime so when war erupts we are not caught hanging.”

When asked about the highlights of his career, Shoke said there have been so many and that “the good that we do is visible for people to see. We assist people when there are floods, veld fires, crime combating – I’m sure you might have seen yesterday we arrested some people [smuggling] drugs and cigarettes along the borders. We do many things: when there are strikes in hospitals, mortuaries, people always call for the defence force. The highlights are too many to elaborate on.”

In his address, Shoke thanked his family for their support as well as former President Jacob Zuma and President Ramaphosa for the confidence they had in giving him the responsibility to serve South Africa and its people.

“To the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula, my minister, my sister and my comrade, it was a pleasure working with you. I enjoyed each and every minute working alongside you. Your support made the burden of command a little easier. We may have differed at times but we never had irreconcilable differences. For that I thank you and will always value your guidance. In the same breath, let me also thank the Deputy Minister for his unrelenting support during my tenure.”

Shoke said he and the minister may have differed from time to time, but the differences were over how best to execute a task given to the SANDF.

“My special word of thanks goes to men and women at the sharp end who continue doing the work and execute some of the most difficult tasks being given to the SANDF. At times these soldiers are the least acknowledged. To you, I would like to say that I am very proud of you.

“You have made this defence force – the force that it is today and executed all your tasks sometimes under difficult circumstances with dwindling resources at your disposal. You have done well in peacekeeping and internal operations, whilst supporting our people in many ways including crime combatting. You have also been at the fore front in the battle against the CoronaVirus ravaging our country.

“Your successes are too numerous to elaborate on, however that is demonstrable by the confidence that our people have in you because each time there is a problem the first port of call is the SANDF even in areas we have no expertise in. This is so because our people believe that there is no task greater than your resolve.”

Shoke said it is time that “our people start appreciating the good that the SANDF is doing for this country and its people because we are the servants of the people and shall continue serving our people at all material times.”

On the shrinking defence budget, Shoke said “let us all close ranks during this difficult period and preserve the little resources at our disposal so that we are able to continue executing our constitutional mandate as enshrined in the constitution. We must continue to do more with less in the midst of these difficult economic times our country faces.”

He thanked South Africa’s Cuban comrades in capacitating SANDF members to recover and restore some of the capabilities that were nearly lost. “To you I say you have saved this country billions of Rands, contrary to some of the negative narrative that is circulating in the public space. You shall always be in our hearts for your sacrifices and support to the SANDF.”

“As I retire from uniform and my life of service, I am confident to leave behind men and women who are committed to the Constitution of the Republic and the people of South Africa, under the capable leadership of General Maphwanya,” Shoke concluded.