In the eye of the storm – Defence against the pandemic


Speech by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula during a mini plenary session to debate the adjusted Department of Defence budget vote in the National Assembly.

As I stand before you on this occasion to present our Defence Budget Vote 23 on the 23rd of July 2020, on Day 119 since lockdown and at a time when our country and the world is seized with the fight against the Corona Virus, I wish to pay tribute and honour our stalwart and military veteran, uTata Andrew Mlangeni, recipient of the Military Veterans Decoration in Platinum Class II during August 2012.

He was also an honorary colonel at the South African Army HQ unit and has also had a reserve force unit named after him, the old South African Irish Regiment in Kensington.

The men and women in our armed forces have been in the eye of the storm of the Corona virus pandemic, assuming roles that have been arrogated to them by the Commander-in-Chief acting in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Defence Act.

Our role as the defence establishment has been to ensure support for the fight against the pandemic through the National Department of Health by providing the required expertise inherent in our South African Military Health Services (SAMHS). We have the provided health professionals across the spectrum in all the provinces, drawn from the regulars, reserve forces and volunteers. The health care professionals provide services to our own members and the National Health Department – through primary health care teams for screening, testing and tracing purposes across the country; mass quarantine sites in KZN, Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo respectively; decontamination teams, to mention but a few.

As I speak on this debate, a team of our military health professionals have been deployed to the Eastern Cape at the request of the Premier and provincial government. That is just one part of a range of deployments we have been involved in.

We are central to the deployment of forces as an integral part of the enforcement of the national state of disaster. In addition to the military health elements, there are a range of capabilities that have been deployed, including but not limited to the following: engineers for bridge building and water purification in various communities; air defence and maritime capabilities; landward capabilities for security and direct support to the police services and other entities of government.

We have since the beginning of the declaration of national disaster, by means of lockdown, run all these operations related to the COVID 19 under the rubric of Operation NOTLELA, LOCKDOWN!

Honourable Members, let us pause for a moment to examine what has all this meant in real terms, from a financial and human resource point of view in our deployment of forces, , one of the key pillars as defence in support of our people. On the 24th June 2020, the Minister of Finance announced that “the Defence Special Budget Allocation for the fight against COVID-19 was an amount of R3, 0 billion. These funds will be for the operational costs associated with the fight against the pandemic, as well as the procurement of personal protective equipment”. For our purposes, this will go through costs already incurred and others still underway, including repatriation flights; quarantine costs; deployment of reserve forces; air support operations; quarantine clinics; medical equipment and ambulances.

As of 15th July 2020, financial authorities were issued for R1. 7 billion, of which R906 million has been paid. I wish to take this opportunity to thank National Treasury for the fight against the COVID-19 allocation, which comes as a silver lining to the pandemic. We will ensure that these leave a legacy.

This allocation is made against the background of a declining Defence budget and capabilities. Despite these severe budget cuts, we are doing all we can to fulfil our Constitutional mandate. Honourable Members this will not be for long, for we are now in a situation where our budget has been cut beyond the bone – the Special Defence Account (SDA), a key instrument to enable us to execute our approved defence acquisition projects, is nearing its demise!

This means that major acquisition projects – for the landward forces, (Project Hoefyster) and maritime forces (Projects Biro and Hotel), are under serious threat from non-completion. These budget reductions continue to have an adverse effect on the SANDF capability, sustainability and modernization of defence prime mission equipment and the defence industry as a whole. Armscor will also have to reduce projects from 39 to 15 in the current financial year and zero in 2021/2022.

These reductions will negatively affect the Defence Review 2015 milestone of arresting the capability decline. There will also be the general loss of capacity within the defence industry as a result of the reduced DOD spend. Between 2017 and 2020 there have been losses of up to R7 billion in revenue, a significant dent on the GDP. The work force has declined from 15 000 to 12 000 in the same period.

These developments will result in the inability to meet future SANDF requirements for critical capabilities. It will also hamper support to national government imperatives and implementation of the Defence Review 2015 as adopted by Parliament and meant to be a blueprint for the future of the SANDF.

Honourable Members, the function and activities of the defence establishment have not stopped due to COVID 19 – defence is still deployed in domestic and international obligations as part and parcel of the mandate.

In real terms this means the commitments have increased over and above what we already had under ‘normal’ circumstances. In our deployment in the DRC under the MONUSCO mandate, we have been central in the fight against negative forces through the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), of which we are lead nation, which includes Tanzania and Malawi.

We shall be further engaging with the SADC and UN in the immediate period about the planned reconfiguration of the FIB. Just like the rest of our country and the world, we have continued support to our troops in the midst of the pandemic. In fact, they are also faced with the Ebola epidemic in the DRC. We continue to take measures to ensure their safety as they continue with their deployments. It is with pride that I announce that one of our senior officers, Brigadier General Monwabisi Dyakopu, has been appointed force commander of the FIB, taking over from our own, Major General Njabulo Dube.

As the budget continues to decline, we are forced to scale down on our capabilities. We have for instance over the years indicated that for effective border safeguarding, we need at least twenty two companies, but we have fifteen, and will not have that in the foreseeable future given the continued budget decline. This continued situation is directly affected by the Cost of Employees and the reality of the budget deficit we are operating under.

Honourable Chair and Members, on governance matters we continue to have audit qualifications that we are addressing in earnest within the department, working closely with the Auditor General and National Treasury for a turnaround whilst ensuring consequence management. During the 2019 defence budget vote, I had committed that there will be action plans monitored continuously.

To this end, the Internal Audit Division was tasked to monitor the implementation plans for corrective measures across services and divisions. We are striving for a clean audit and have been able to resolve the audit qualification on movable tangible capital assets with concurrence of the AG and Treasury. The Internal Audit division is fully functional and is assisting the department in strengthening internal controls and procedures under the guidance of the Audit Committee, whom we wish to thank.

Honourable Members, as we deliver this Budget Vote 23, we are seized with a different national crisis that requires the attention and action of all of us, men and women. The country continues to suffer under a scourge of gender based violence wreaking havoc in our country. The SANDF is not immune to this scourge.

I have consistently condemned the prevalence of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) amongst members of the SANDF deployed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, these cases are not confined to members of the SANDF deployed externally. In November 2019, I appointed a Ministerial Task Team to investigate the legal frameworks in place, the procedural processes in reporting and managing cases and the sentences meted out in finalized cases. This is in an effort to develop a comprehensive response for the SANDF to protect all its members, as well as civilians in deployment areas, against such incidents. The Team is busy finalizing its report and recommendations and putting transitional arrangements in place to take specific cases forward and to protect the victims which came forward and entrusted them with their cases. I expect the Team’s work to be finalized by the end of the year.

Chairperson I wish to express gratitude to the Department of Defence for the lifeline extended to our premier heritage site, the Castle of Good Hope. They responded generously and transferred relief funding of R3 million to the Castle to enable it to sustain itself with the advent of loss of income from the national lockdown and cover the staff’s salaries and some of their operations. This will shore them up until the end of the current financial year.

Finally, Honourable Chairperson, I wish to conclude by honouring the Secretary for Defence, Dr. Sam Gulube, who is officiating in his last Defence Budget Vote, having been at the helm since 2012. He has also harnessed the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster as well as leading senior officials in support of the cluster and all of government. He has also been leading in the fight against COVID-19 and completes forty five years of service to the people as he goes into retirement. The President has appointed Ambassador Sonto Kudjo as the new Secretary for Defence.

In addition, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the outgoing Armscor Board of Directors, who have done a sterling job in steering our defence acquisition agency for the previous period. Steps are underway for appointment of a new board of directors.

I also wish to extend my appreciation to the men and women in uniform and their civilian colleagues in the entire defence establishment.