Will SecDef Kudjoe be the driver of change?


Much has been said and papers with various levels of importance generated, including a Defence Review, with no discernible change in the structure of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

While those in command of the national defence force and their counterparts at Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s Defence and Military Veterans Ministry alongside the Department of Defence (DoD) meet seemingly endlessly, at least one public representative has not given up hope that change will come.

Unsurprisingly it is opposition parliamentarian Kobus Marais. The Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for Mapisa-Nqakula’s portfolio knows full well the problems in reshaping the SANDF. He is hopeful Sonto Kudjoe, now approaching the end of her first year as Secretary for Defence, will be the person to drive effective change in both the DoD and SANDF.

Marais sees the Ministerial tasking of Sam Gulube’s successor to produce at least some of the goods. He told defenceWeb: “I believe she shows a willingness to tackle some of what were previously holy cows in the defence environment”.

“Add to that a new SANDF chief in the form of General Rudzani Maphwanya and there is probably a better opportunity for change,” he said, adding the Defence Review Milestone One of arresting the decline in the national military machine was, on its own, “a dead horse”.

“Policy has to be reviewed and adapted to push toward a restructured and repositioned SANDF with reprioritised expenditure and a proper funding plan to meet modern defence challenges in compliance with the Constitution.”

Marais’ pinning his hopes on the SecDef to be the driver of change is based on the Minister’s lacklustre performance. Now in his second term as shadow defence minister, Marais points out Mapisa-Nqakula has not submitted any practical and detailed alternatives to make the SANDF a properly working military. “Asking for more money from National Treasury seems to be her mantra.”

As far as Kudjoe’s policy document is concerned a worrying point for Marais is there doesn’t appear to be a timeframe set for it. Mapisa-Nqakula in May unveiled a five-point plan to overcome the DoD’s challenges, and this included tasking Kudjoe with investigating affordable levels of defence ambition.

“This bears out what I said at the recent SIGLA (Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa) seminar where I pointed out any plan without clear timelines stands a good chance of becoming yet another idealistic document doomed to failure.

“The Minister announced a five point plan – also without timelines. Again, I see it being neglected without the necessary drive from defence leadership. Oversight and accountability can be avoided if timelines are not there and linked. This cannot be allowed to happen,” Marais warned.

The DA parliamentarian is in agreement with African Defence Review (ADR) director Darren Olivier on the need for a Defence White Paper.

“It’s time and the process will be driven by Parliament with public hearings,” Marais said in an obvious reference to Mapisa-Nqakula’s uttering that “South Africans must decide on the defence force they want”.

“A White Paper process is a better option for an inclusive outcome to give South Africa the defence force its people want and are prepared to fund. On the other hand a defence policy document can become another ‘nice to have’ internal document that will soothe some egos, but in all probability will not be implementable due to no general consensus and a lack of buy-in from National Treasury,” according to him.

Earlier this year Olivier warned if there is no intervention in the next few years the SANDF risks unmanaged loss of strategic capabilities “making if difficult, if not impossible, to resurrect in the near to medium term future”.

He said: “What’s needed is a new Defence Review that includes National Treasury from the outset and binds both departments into a stable budget cycle allowing for proper planning in the SANDF. An option may be to peg the SANDF budget to GDP, perhaps at about one percent for at least 10 years.”

“It’s time for a proper Defence Review, with wide civil society involvement and the promise of firm commitments from government and Treasury in particular, if there is any chance of preventing a disastrous and extremely costly outcome.”