Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says last week’s cancellation of a multi-billion rand contract to buy eight Airnbus Military A400M Loadmaster military transport aircraft will free resources for a plan she has with cooperative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka to help with service delivery.
The Sunday Times yesterday reported that Sisuu had told it she had plans for a “radical reorientation of the defence force”.
Sisulu said “she had scrapped the secret defence review that was waiting for her when she arrived, but promised to submit the new one to parliament’s defence committee early next year and to encourage public involvement in shaping a new military mandate,” the paper added.
This appears at odds with a statement by deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetkla in September tht the update of the 1996 White Paper on Defence and 1998 Defence Review would be tabled in Parliament later this month.
Now known as “Defence Strategy 2030” the document has been under development within the Department of Defence under various names since about 2004, but unlike the Defence Review with no civil society input.
“The new administration has come with new priorities and the review has to take that on board. We have to restructure the way we think of defence so we can contribute to the growth in jobs, to the development of the country,” Sisulu told the Sunday times.
“We’ve had to re-engineer what the role of defence is in a country that is undergoing financial difficulties, experiencing service delivery challenges at municipal level and is bogged down with development issues.”
At the core of Sisulu’s new deal is a pact with Shiceka to make military experts available to municipalities to get infrastructure building and maintenance moving.
“This is social involvement of defence expertise,” she said. “You might see a man in uniform drawing up plans or dealing with engineering problems, but you won’t see a man in uniform digging holes, because we also want to create jobs,” she said.
Municipalities would pay for the military’s services, but probably at a rate much lower than the “exorbitant” prices they now pay to outsource work. Sisulu said she and Shiceka planned to begin implementation after the annual cabinet lekgotla in January.
The Sunday Times further reported the defence force would not get involved in police work. Earlier this year police minister Nathi Mthetwa mused that the South African National Defence Force should assist the police in protecting cash-in-transit vehicles and general crime fighting. No mention was made in the Sunday Times report of plans to return the SANDF to border line control duty, also a police function.
On defence procurement the report said a “new shopping list, partly funded by A400M savings, would focus on replacing ageing basic military equipment.”
It added all future defence purchases would be by transparent public tender.
University of KzaZulu-Natal professor Deane-Peter Baker says “the symbolic importance of this redistribution of resources and change of focus should not be underestimated.
“What is being effectively given up – Minister Sisulu’s comments suggest that no replacement for the A400’s is likely to be sought in the short to medium term – is a key enabler for force projection beyond South Africa’s borders.
“In its place comes a strong focus on the domestic agenda, with the military being used as a tool to promote local development. This is the first real indication of what South Africa’s defence policy is likely to look like under the new administration, and the picture seems to be one of moving away from Mbeki’s Africa-wide policy of stabilisation to a more limited, domestic-focused, posture.”
Rear Admiral Steve Stead (Ret) of the Brenthurst Foundation added that he might be “wrong but I am concerned that the minister has made a commitment to the cabinet that the SANDF cannot deliver.”
He also asks what makes Sisulu think uniformed personnel are the panacea to the problems of service delivery? “The ANC must overcome the problems of corruption and nepotism first,” he says. “…defence should never have in its mandate a contribution to national employment objectives,” he adds.
Pic: Engineers from 35 Engineer Support Regiment drilling a waterhole near their base at Dunnottar on Gauteng’s East Rand in March 2006 while training for a deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is soldier such as these that will be the spearhead of Sisulu’s plan.