Yam highlights successes, challenges of budget-constrained SA Army


South African Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, has cautioned that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will struggle to face all South Africa’s security threats given its shrinking defence budget, but has nevertheless recorded successes with border protection, peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance operations.

“The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, expressed her concern about the continuation of budget cuts of the military. This is a serious oversight made by our politicians,” Yam said during a media briefing in Pretoria this morning. “Currently we are being reduced from a Constitutional mandate driven organisation to be a resource driven organisation, meaning that we can only do according to resource allocation.” He said the lack of funding means the SANDF is not able to address all the security threats to South Africa.

Nevertheless, the Chief of the Army gave an overview of the ways in which the Army is fulfilling its mandate. One of its goals is to make sure all people in South Africa are and feel safe, and to this end the SANDF in cooperation with the South African Police Service (SAPS) deployed to the Western Cape last month to combat crime and maintain law and order. “We have made enormous inroads to combat crime in support of the South African Police Services,” Yam said.

Some 1 320 soldiers, primarily from 8 South African Infantry Battalion, are deployed in the Western Cape under Operation Prosper. Their deployment is from 18 July to 16 September in ten priority areas, mainly on the Cape Flats, and will cost R23.3 million. Commenting on the deployment, aimed at curbing gang violence, Yam said for now the Army has only looked at three months. “Any extension will be the prerogative of the Chief of the SANDF in liaison with his counterpart at the SAPS and sanctioned at political level. Now we have no intention of extending the mission.”

Yam added that crime-fighting is the role of the South African Police Service and “we wouldn’t like necessarily to be involved in this environment. It’s not what we’re trained for.”

Border protection

Yam noted major successes in patrolling South Africa’s border under Operation Corona. Between October last year and the beginning of this week, soldiers on border protection duty at Musina in Limpopo, Macadamia in Mpumalanga, Pongola in Kwa Zulu-Natal, Ladybrand in the Free State, Maluti in the Eastern Cape, Swarkopfontein in Mahikeng and Boshoek in Upington, apprehended thousands of illegal immigrants, recovered 204 stolen vehicles, seized 60 183 kg of narcotics (mainly dagga), recovered 50 stolen weapons, 2 121 stolen livestock and contraband goods to the value of R23 112 717.

Yam said the return of the SANDF to the borders required a specialised capability, and therefore the South African Army Infantry Formation was tasked with the re-establishment of the South African Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC) consisting of dogs, horses, motorcycles, military explosives and drug detection systems (MEDDS) and tracking elements in April 2011. “These elements are currently deployed under Operation Corona since 28 August 2011 to date; a total of 234 member per sub-unit are on a rotational basis…The deployment of SAASIC elements in a border safeguarding role have managed to successfully reduce the levels of stock and vehicle theft, drug smuggling and illegal border crossing along the Republic of South Africa’s international border.

“The successful application of this capability is ensuring revenue for South Africa in curbing all the illegal activities taking place along the borders especially where mobility is restricted since horses, dogs, motorcycles and personnel can negotiate in very difficult terrain that is part of the border areas with neighbouring countries.

“Utilisation of the SAASIC mounted soldiers ensures that a large area is covered in a day utilising horses in a range of 50 km and motorcycles in a range of 230 km. Mounted soldiers’ fatigue levels are limited…The utilisation of this capability is a must in the light of the difficulties faced in our border safeguarding role. SAASIC is a force multiplier,” Yam said.

DRC deployment

Apart from 15 companies deployed on border protection duties, the South African Army has a thousand soldiers deployed with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 2 South African Infantry Battalion (2 SAI) recently rotated to the DRC and Yam said they saw action a week after they arrived, when they were “attacked ferociously at night in their base”. The attack was successfully repelled without serious injury, but several days later South African soldiers once again saw combat when they came under fire whilst rescuing civilians from attack.

“Our soldiers are fighting under very difficult conditions. You don’t know how many times occupied bases were rescued at night. By a miracle of God we did not have major casualties,” Yam said. He added that SANDF troops are not to be underestimated and that “When you deal with South African Army soldiers you will pay a price.”

Yam noted that August is women’s month and he made mention of the women who participated in the liberation struggle against apartheid as well as women serving in combat today. “Following the footsteps of these gallant heroines I would like to acknowledge the leadership provided by Lieutenant Colonel Tiisetso Sekgobela who was the Commander of the SA Army Battalion and Lieutenant Dimakatso Rasile who was the platoon Commander during the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the previous rotation.”

Humanitarian assistance

The South African Army Engineering Formation has been involved in numerous humanitarian assistance projects in collaboration with other state departments. During the 2018/19 financial year, the Army built a number of bridges, including the Nyosana 30 metre Bailey bridge in Port St John; a 30 metre Bailey bridge in Matatiele; and the Zazulwa 42 metre Bailey bridge in Butterworth.

Seven Pedestrian Bridges were built temporarily in the Eastern Cape and they will soon be replaced with vehicle width size bridges. “We envisage that five more bridges will be built in the financial year 2019/20,” Yam said.

The South African National Defence Force has run out of Bailey bridges, and does not have the money to acquire more. However, the Department of Public Works has been buying bridges, with the South African Army erecting them. There is a stock of pedestrian bridges, however, and these are being installed as at least temporary solutions.

Yam noted that as part of the Vaal river project to improve water-related infrastructure, the Minister of Finance in October 2018 requested the Department of Defence to assist in this crisis. SA Army engineers were subsequently deployed to arrest the situation, especially in the Sharpeville, Meyerton, Vereeniging and Sebokeng areas. They have been tasked with upgrading 44 critical pump stations; refurbishing three treatment works; and cleaning primary settling tanks (PSTs).


Progress has been made with Operation Koba-Tlala to contribution towards food security in South Africa. Some of the main milestones achieved include the military in rural and semi-rural areas locally sourcing food for 16 messes. The Project Koba-Tlala team facilitated a process whereby small-scale and emerging farmers and local SMMEs became part of the value chain especially in places like Kimberley, Cape Town, Oudtshoorn and Potchefstroom.

Co-operation with several national, provincial and regional agricultural organisations has been developed, Yam said. “Progress has been made regarding co-operation with the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) and the National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation (NERPO). The SANDF is also busy with a mapping process with the former Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to locate some of their projects (Farmer Production Support Units) close to military bases.”

In addition, 730 Reserve force members have been re-skilled to enable their utilisation in their local communities. “More savings were brought about by the co-operation and financial support of Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) and other Sector Education Training Authorities. In this regard more than R2 million was allocated by SASSETA for re-skilling of Reserves.”

Project Koba-Tlala will deploy more Reserve members, trained as Community Development and Liaison Facilitators to the Vaal project within the Emfuleni Municipality. They have been involved in community projects, for example assisting with the cleaning up of illegal dumping sites, and they took the initiative to build pedestrian bridges over polluted streams to enable community members to access schools and shopping centres, Yam said.

“Furthermore, Reserve members will undergo SETA accredited water and sanitation training with the skills to operate the preliminary treatment process to enable them to provide services of basic maintenance while they are guarding pump stations. As part of Project Koba-Tlala they also embarked on a sanitation awareness programme amongst the youth.”

International relations

On the matter of the shooting incident on the border between South Africa and Mozambique on 16 June, Yam said there is engagement between the two countries, with the investigation proceeding well. He said the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, has instructed that the investigation into the matter be expedited. Yam could not provide any further detail about what led to the death of two Mozambican border police in the incident. “Our soldiers were on patrol on the South African side. We still need to understand what happened,” he said.

Regarding cooperation with other nations, Yam said the SA Army continues to strengthen bilateral relations with Zimbabwe, especially regarding issues of common interest such as military training, military cooperation, and military technical cooperation between Zimbabwe’s defence industry and Armscor.

“The SA Army will continue to embark on a skills development programme for its members,” Yam said, with 37 members being sent on courses in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, the United States, United Kingdom, China, Vietnam, Sweden, Australia and Pakistan. Fourteen of these members have left the country and five will be leaving in September. “We also have seven international fellows who are currently busy with various courses in our institutions. These members are from South Korea, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Brazil and Uruguay.”