The SANDF needs government support – Rise Mzansi

2513

“Effective defence for a democratic South Africa.” This is the vision defined for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Strategic Plan 2020-2025, published by the Department of Defence in 2020. A noble and just vision, in-line with Section 200 of the Constitution, which mandates a defence force that “Provides for a structured, disciplined military force and the primary objective, which is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people.”

The Strategic plan was intended to provide a framework for the SANDF to operate under, as an extension of the Defence Review 2015, a 344-page document which was meant to outline SANDF’s strategic objectives and our National Security Policy, also produced by the Department of Defence. It is now 2024, and our Defence Force has marked the 30th anniversary of its establishment on 27 April, an anniversary shared with the beginning of South Africa’s democracy. Yet, the SANDF still has been unable to figure out what its purpose is.

Despite previous documents, which are filled with goals, tasks, and milestones, none have been met. A new review has been announced by the current Defence Minister, Thandi Modise, which is meant to include new structural changes and strategies. This Review was originally scheduled for release at the end of 2023 but is now intended for release in October 2024. In the meantime, the SANDF has repeatedly seen its budget cut, with the current 2024/2025 budget being the lowest since the creation of the South African armed forces in 1960, at 0.7% of GDP.

The primary domestic guardian is the South African Police Service (SAPS), but out of desperation and decades of failed policing, the government has had to resort to the SANDF to fulfill tasks meant to be carried out by the SAPS. The SANDF’s biggest commitments at present includes combating sama-zamas, with 3 300 troops committed. Protecting power stations and infrastructure saw 880 troops deployed. Border security sees the deployment of 15 companies of personnel, roughly 1 800 troops. Previous deployments include assisting police with combatting crime, street patrols and roadblocks during the Coronavirus Pandemic, and even preventing the burning of commercial trucks.

Since July 2021, the SANDF has deployed up to 1 495 troops to Northern Mozambique to combat a terrorist insurgency under a SADC Mission (SAMIM). The Deployment to Mozambique is meant to end this year, but the withdrawal – which started in April – comes as insurgent activity has recently increased.

Furthermore, the SANDF has been deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1999, as part of UN peacekeeping efforts. This UN mission is in the process of withdrawal, and scheduled to be replaced by a deployment of 5 000 soldiers under a new SADC Mission (SAMIDRC), with 2 900 coming from South Africa. At present, 600 troops are in the DRC ahead of the main force, to set up the necessary basing for the mission. The deployment has already seen the death of three SANDF troops, with four more wounded. Recent reporting has revealed dire living conditions, with an absence of field kitchens, medical staff and the 600 troops sharing six pit latrines.

While the Department of Defence is unable to define SANDF’s purpose, soldiers are being deployed to fill gaps left by the SAPS’s ineffectiveness, with some troops deployed far from home under unclear missions, with little to no support. To date, it is still not clear where the R2 billion needed for the DRC mission will come from.

Rise Mzansi will ensure that ethical leaders, capable of helping the SANDF in developing a new comprehensive and realistic structure, are appointed to key parliamentary committees. Such leaders will enable the SANDF to appropriately respond to emerging threats. We will cut down on wasteful expenditure and ensure funds are allocated effectively, while prioritising new technologies and equipment meant to augment and enhance SANDF’s capabilities. We will ensure budgets for new equipment are spent appropriately, and equipment maintained to prevent the loss of further crucial capabilities.

We need new leaders, to keep us safe. The soldiers of the SANDF need new leaders, to serve them and lead them. We can no longer afford to keep misusing our defence force by passing on policing tasks and asking them to do more with less every time budgets are drafted.

It is time for new leaders with a holistic understanding of international and regional security. Rise Mzansi aims to support and enable the SANDF to safeguard our democracy and act as advocates for peace in our region and the larger international community.

Ricardo Teixeira is a Rise Mzansi Candidate for the National Assembly and defence and national security advocate.