Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says she is in negotiations with other state departments about the future and positioning of the defence industry.
“Yes, I am paying attention to the defence industry, paying a lot of attention to the defence industry,” she told journalists last week when questioned on the matter. “You know, we have a kind of government where for the purposes of the easy handling of portfolios we removed the defence industry and put it under the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and some of it [state arsenal Denel] under the Public Enterprises (DPE) , which makes it very difficult for the manoeuvrability that is possible when there is a single minister.
“We have been in discussion, in particular with the DPE, to see how we can align this so that we have greater say and are able to direct as we are the only market in the country… we are the biggest market that they have; therefore we need to have some kind of synergy between industry and ourselves and I think the discussions are going very well and we will soon be able to work out and announce a plan in which we would have laid out our relationship with the defence industry.”
The South African government last seriously considered industry in 1999 when Cabinet approved the White Paper on the South African Defence Related Industries (SADRI). Speaking at the publication of the white paper in December 1999, then National Conventional Arms Control Committee chair Professor Kader Asmal said SA was the first country to coin the term “defence-related industry” and to do away with the term “defence industry”, as “the studies conducted in the White Paper indicate that a ‘defence industry’ could not be identified or defined as a distinct industrial sector.
Defence work is done across all sectors of the South African industrial base, Asmal added. “There is also a growing tendency for companies producing defence equipment to make use of civilian technologies, or to manufacture dual-use products which can be sold to both defence and non-defence markets. There is also an increasing overlap between defence and civilian production within companies.”
The white paper itself notes that government at the time recognised “that defence related industries are an integral part of South Africa’s defence capability. Government also recognises the strategic and defence value of having a local defence industrial capability. However, due to budgetary constraints, and within the framework of broader national industrial strategy, government will be very selective of which technologies and capabilities are to be retained on the basis that they are strategic or that they constitute a national asset.”
It later states that given the “realities and resource limitations, choices have had to be made and as a result five technologies and capabilities are identified. They are common to the mode of warfare of both advanced and under-developed countries and are also common across the four … Service[s] of the SANDF.” The following are considered strategically essential:
– Logistic support, repair and maintenance of equipment and systems
– Systems integration
– Command, Control and Communication systems
– Sensors, signal processing and data processing
– Combat systems software and support.
– Simulation systems and war gaming.
It is not clear if these are still “considered strategically essential.”
The 1996 White Paper on Defence recognised that the government might be called upon by neighbouring countries to play a number of supportive roles. “The SANDF could, for example, provide assistance as regards the maintenance and upgrading of weaponry and equipment.” furthermore, the White Paper indicated that SA’s consideration of involvement in specific peace support operations will not be limited to the possible deployment of troops. “The involvement could also take the form of providing equipment, logistical support, engineering services, communications systems and medical personnel facilities.” But not much has happened on this front in the last 11 years.
Sisulu says this may be a result of the current policy and oversight misalignment. “It is only when we have this alignment that we will also be able to capture the African market, it’s a huge market; that we need to ensure our industry can move into and will be able to supply the African continent with things that is made in South Africa…”