Plans to build an ammunition demolition plant remain at pre-feasibility stage, despite being in the works since at least 2004.
Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says the Department of Defence and Military Veterans “has had discussions with a number of companies that have ammunition disposal capacity, including Denel and Nammo AS,” she said in a written answer to a question asked by Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament James Lorimer.
She added the project “to identify additional ammunition disposal capacity is at the pre-feasibility stage.”
The National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence a year ago expressed its displeasure at the lack of progress in establishing the facility for the more than 78 000 metric tons of obsolete and expired munitions then in the DoD’s Ammunition Sub Depots at De Aar, Naboomspruit and Jankempdorp.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) last year November reported then-Committee acting chairman Gerhard Koornhof was annoyed at being told the facility will likely only be in place “in 2010”.
He said that the committee had visited the De Aar dump in 2006 and had been told at the time that the need for the facility was critical.
Other MPs had visited in October 2004 and tabled a report to the committee in March 2005. This recorded that 90% of the SANDF’s ammunition holding was then already older than 20 years. The guaranteed shelf life for shells and pyrotechnics are 10 years and for small arms ammunition 20 years.
South African National Defence Force Chief of Logistics Maj Gen Justice Nkonyane last November said contractual issues surrounding the plant were being discussed with a construction company.
A Mr Zondi, likely Mthobisi Zondi, head of the Defence Supply Chain Integration Division, added that "planning had commenced in 2006 to have this plant in use, but environmental studies were still running. The commissioning of the plant should happen within two years," meaning 2010.
Sisulu’s response, last week, notes a formal environment impact assessment has been conducted and “the final environmental impact report, [dated] July 8 was delivered to the Department of Environmental Affairs.”
In the meantime the DoD has six licensed demolition facilities, namely De Aar, Naboomspruit, 93 Ammunition Depot, Touwssriver, Roodewal and Vastrap. SA stopped dumping ammunition at sea in 1995.
The 2005 report by MPs noted that the open burning and open detonation of ammunition as well as the existing incinerator used at De Aar “were environmentally unfriendly, labour intensive, expensive and a danger, not only to the personnel, who are not trained disposal professionals, but also the neighbouring community.”
It would take 34 years for the DoD to destroy its unserviceable ammunition in that manner.
An ammunition disposal plant, by contrast, could address the backlog in seven to eight years.
“The plant could also be used by other countries in the region and this could assist in controlling the proliferation of small arms, including explosives.”