Top security analyst wants a “realistic” defence review, not ad hoc deployments

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South Africa urgently needs a realistic defence review that steps away from the pretence of conventional operations and external defence and focuses on peacekeeping, border security, public order policing and infrastructure protection.

This is according to a respected South African defence and security analyst in response to Defence Minister Thandi Modise’s thinking on possible utilisation of soldiers to safeguard national assets such as power and rail. Jakkie Cilliers, the Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, said a possible infrastructure protection tasking reflects the deterioration of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to the point where this is all it is still capable of.

While not completely writing off what Modise said at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) during Exercise Vuk’uhlome last week, Cilliers points out “it’s common knowledge the SANDF is in a dire state of disrepair and unable of performing many of its stated core functions”.

The more cynical interpretation of that specific remark by Cilliers is offset by what he terms “a more gracious” one. He views soldiers deployed to protect Eskom and Transnet assets as “optimal use of an available asset to meet a particular challenge, leaving the lack of appropriate doctrine, training, and equipment aside”.

Modise raised the possibility of soldiers guarding assets in response to a defenceWeb question, saying the SANDF was asked to examine protection of power and rail infrastructure.

To that, Cilliers noted “destruction and looting of rail infrastructure and sabotage of Eskom have been widely reported. Potential deployment of the SANDF to protect railway and electricity assets does, of course, reflect incapacity and decay in the much larger SA Police Service (SAPS) which is several times the size of the military with double its budget”.

A first step to rectifying the situation is the recent granting of peace officer status to Transnet security personnel by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola.

“For its part the dire situation as regards crime and sabotage at Eskom was recently revealed by chief executive Andre de Ruyter who claimed it may account for an additional stage or two of electricity loadshedding,” is his take on the crime and sabotage faced by the power utility.

Returning to Modise’s words at the CTC, he maintains they follow a recent pronouncement following a statement in Parliament last year that South Africa should consider establishing an ‘intermediate’ military force trained and equipped to deal with unrest. “This is an obvious reference to the French gendarmerie system technically part of the military but under police command.”

“South Africa,” Cilliers told defenceWeb, “has no clear security architecture, national security doctrine or frame of reference that informs choices and trade-offs”.

“For example, apparently based on a classified needs assessment done by the intelligence services, the country embarked on a spanking new Border Management Agency (BMA) at great cost. And there are reports to – again – build fences along some borders.

“Confusion reigns in the allocation and funding of South Africa’s security establishment, never mind effective use of available funds when considering reports by the Auditor General and the Zondo Commission of Inquiry.

“South Africa urgently needs a realistic defence review that steps away from the pretence of conventional operations and external defence. We need to cut our coats according to our available cloth – and formally adopt emergency security prevention and reaction, internally and regionally, as the primary function of the SANDF.

“These are regional counter terrorism operations, participation in regional peacekeeping, border security, area security, public order policing, provision of a surge capacity to police, patrol and protection of maritime assets and suchlike. And then train, equip and legislate accordingly,” he said adding: “police support, including emergency protection of key infrastructure should be a core, not secondary function of the SANDF, for which it is equipped and trained”.