Weak SANDF tarnishes national image and compromises SA’s ability to protect its sovereignty

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If the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is perceived to be weak, or in fact is, this tarnishes South Africa’s national image and compromises its ability to protect the country’s sovereignty, and also undermines South Africa’s global standing as a manufacturer of world class military products.

This was one of the key messages from Sandile Ndlovu, South African Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries (AMD) Association CEO, who delivered opening remarks at the inaugural AMD National Safety and Security Townhall event held in Sandton on 15 May, when South Africa’s political parties expanded on their defence and security policies.

In explaining the rationale for hosting the Townhall event, Ndlovu said as South Africa gears up for the national elections on 29 May, “we believe it is our duty to shine a spotlight…on the state of the country’s safety and security, with the hope that this will be the first of many conversations regarding solutions to our country’s safety and security challenges.”

The challenges to South Africa’s national security and defence capabilities are numerous, especially the financial investment required to ensure that South Africa has the personnel, technology, and infrastructure required to fulfil its national security mandate, namely the protection of people, borders, environment, and infrastructure.

“Despite slight increases in the defence budget over the past few years, our spending remains far below the international norm (0.7% of GDP versus 2% of GDP),” Ndlovu said. “This under-investment limits our ability to fulfil our defence commitments and hampers our operational effectiveness.”

A weak SANDF compromises South Africa’s ability to protect its national sovereignty, affects soldiers’ morale and also “undermines our global standing as a manufacturer of best-in-class military products.”

“The consequence is the industry’s inability to export its goods, and worse, our ability to contribute meaningfully to the fiscus. We must urgently address these challenges through comprehensive dialogue and action, and that is why we are all here today. We are hoping that through this National Safety and Security Townhall, we facilitate crucial discussions regarding the challenges confronting South Africa’s national security and possible solutions to these challenges.”

Ndlovu said that South Africa stands at a crossroads, “and our response from tonight onwards will determine the future of our SANDF’s capabilities and the industry’s transformation and growth. We must always be reminded that the primary object of the defence force is to defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity, and its people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law. A well-equipped SANDF benefits not only South Africa but allows us to fulfil the international obligations of the Republic.”

Michelle Nxumalo, AMD Acting Chairperson, said that as the National Elections approach on 29 May, “it is paramount that we engage in informed discussions about national safety and security. The decisions made at the ballot box will have profound implications for the future of our defence industry and the overall security landscape of our nation.

“By fostering open and informed dialogue, we empower citizens to make educated choices and hold our elected representatives accountable for their policies and commitments regarding national security.”

Ahead of South Africa’s main political parties deliberating on national security, Dr Vasu Gounden, Founder and Executive Director of ACCORD (The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes), gave a keynote address on national security.

Looking to the past, Gounden noted that before 1994, South Africa built an effective offensive military and police capability with a strong defence industry. Post-1994 saw a shift to peacekeeping operations, and internally a police service focussed on fighting crime.

Today, one of the greatest challenges facing the country is the triple issue of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Over the coming decades, Africa will see a rise in social and political conflict, Gounden said, with porous borders already being filled by radicalised insurgencies and organised crime. This will get worse as Africa’s population grows. Insurgencies have already increased by 400% over the last decade.

Close to home, South Africa faces the Mozambique insurgency across the border, “which is not dealt with and growing.” The country is also dealing with organised crime, smuggling at sea, and other issues.

“Conflict is on the rise and political parties need to address the question of security,” Gounden said. There is a big debate between security and development, but without development, insecurity will worsen, and there will be more crime and instability. There needs to be a balance between security and development, he said, with the challenge for political parties being how to respond, especially as “time is against us.”

Gounden suggested that the intelligence services need to address rising organised crime, the police need to be equipped to mitigate conflict, South Africa needs to stabilise the continent and be involved in international deployments to ensure stability and economic security, and the defence force needs new equipment and training to adapt to changing roles, particularly peace enforcement. “The defence industry is a catalyst for other industries. We need to grow the South African defence industry to contribute to development,” he said.

“Are we secure as a nation? Every party should have an answer to security questions,” Gounden said, and urged national dialogue between parties after the 29 May elections. “We must unite in seeking bold and innovative solutions,” he added, pointing out there should be consensus as most parties have similar views on the importance of defence and security.

Click here to view the Townhall video recording.