Keynote address by Trevor Mketi, AMD Conference 29 September 2020


Members of the South African National Defence Force

Defence attaches and foreign military representatives

Captains of industry

Members of the media

Ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of the Secretary for Defence, Ambassador Kudjoe, I welcome you to the 2020 edition of the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Conference, which is being held virtually for the first time.

In spite of the havoc that COVID-19 has wreaked on the local defence industry, South Africa and the world at large, I am pleased that events like this can continue, so that we may bring together aerospace and defence industry decision makers and buyers from around the world, including many from Africa, and discuss the impact of the industry and the National Defence Force.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the South African national Defence Force, which is at the eye of the storm and heavily engaged in combating the spread of the disease. Although the number of infections is dropping by the day, the virus is still firmly with us and requires constant vigilance to be kept under control. At the request of our commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the SANDF has deployed tens of thousands of personnel across the country and they are engaged in a variety of tasks in support of the national state of disaster, including securing our porous borders and supporting the South African Police Service maintain law and order and compliance with the state of national disaster regulations. Since our lockdown started, soldiers have carried out thousands of patrols, arrested several thousand people and confiscated hundreds of firearms as well as millions of rands worth of drugs, counterfeit goods and stolen vehicles, among other successes.

Operation Notlela highlights in the most practical way the need for a well-resourced and well-equipped National Defence Force, as the pandemic has shown that lives depend on it.

The Department of Defence is attempting to cut costs where it can, such as limiting spending on advertising and training and development, limiting travel, suspending procurement and suspending the refurbishment of vehicles. Funds for Armscor have also been trimmed and consequently the number of projects Armscor has been tasked with will soon reach zero.

The function and activities of the defence establishment have not stopped due to COVID-19 – in fact, there are more demands than ever on the Department of Defence to meet domestic and international obligations. For example, the SANDF continues to contribute to the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo; it continues to patrol our exclusive economic zone and the Mozambican Channel, and continues to safeguard our borders, even though there is not funding for the required 22 companies for border protection. At present we only have 15 companies securing our borders. The fact that they have seen a significant amount of contraband goods smuggled under lockdown shows how important adequate border protection is.

Many have described the National Defence Force as continuing to perform small miracles on a shoestring budget. It plays a constitutionally mandated role to secure our nation and this is supported by the defence industry. Consequently, the Department of Defence strives to support the industry. The aerospace and defence industry also plays a key role in the economic development of our country, and the economic footprint of our industry stretches far beyond just the contribution to the country’s GDP. The support of the industry also contributes to peace and stability on the continent, which is as a whole good for South Africa in order for it to do business in Africa. Improved security attracts investments, encourages growth and promotes development.

It is in the Department of Defence’s interest to have a strong and agile defence industry. In light of reduced local demand, the sector needs to become leaner and tougher and promote new manufacturing methods, invest in the fourth industrial revolution technologies like 3D printing and digital design, diversify into the commercial sector and come up with creative funding mechanisms.

The industry now more than ever needs to work together and market itself as a united brand and I urge the industry to find a way to communicate its success. If your company adds any value to society, to the economy, and offers unique products and services, be vocal about it – engage fully in the public domain, in the media, amongst other industry players and of course with Government.

From our side, the Department of Defence consistently assists, hence the creation of the National Defence Industry Council, which has subsequently delivered the South African Defence Industry Strategy, the defence Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Sector Code and the Defence Industry Fund – the latter is looking to attract R1 billion in investment from the market. The National Defence Industry Council will continue to focus on efforts to cooperate with other Government departments, and finalise alternative funding models, exploit Department of Trade, Industry and Competition incentives, use the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and other departments to market South African defence products, and leverage intellectual property.

We also ensured that the Defence Sector participated in the Public Private Growth Initiative of the Presidency. At the diplomatic level we have been promoting relations with BRICS countries and have been pushing for a growth in defence exports. Armscor in particular has been making progress in tapping into new markets, especially where South Africa’s ITAR-free equipment is in high demand.

I also encourage the industry to work together with other partners such as the Department of Science and Innovation, and industry representatives like AMD. The Department of Defence can strive to deepen engagement with the industry so it understands our priorities and meets our requirements.

South Africa has developed numerous cutting-edge technologies and has many competitive products, such as in the field of artillery, self-protection systems, mine-detection vehicles, secure communications, electronic warfare and radar systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and guided weapons. In light of the Department of Defence’s budget cuts, advanced technologies can be used as a cost-effective force multiplier and the Department has already made some procurements of radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance cameras and other technologies for border safeguarding and peacekeeping.

At this Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Conference I hope we can explore ways to unlock South Africa’s aerospace and defence potential, especially as we view the role of the military as a developmental force, both nationally and continentally. The Department of Defence is here to support the industry, as the industry is not just a Department of Defence asset but a national asset that has value for many departments and government agencies. The industry produces innovative technology useful to wider society, from innovative shark nets to safer railway lines. The industry is also an incubator of scarce skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and its engineers are an asset for the broader economy. Working together we can grow the economy, create jobs, generate export revenue and keep the South African National Defence Force supplied with the quality and sovereign products it requires.

I wish to assure you that we know and appreciate the frustrations and challenges over the NCACC matters and we are doing the best we can to alleviate the situation. Please bear with us.

We recognise the south African defence industry as our partner in supplying the Defence with necessary capabilities to protect the sovereignty of our beloved country and for the development of the country in general.

The problems of Denel are giving us sleepless nights and that is why we have appointed the Save the Denel technical team comprising of AMD’s Executive Director, Denel and Armscor’s CEOs, Dr [Moses] Khanyile, DPE and DoD. We have also asked Armscor to pay suppliers directly and have ordered Denel to centralise all funding from DoD as per service; this is to avoid money intended to equip our forces with the right equipment at the right time being used for salaries by Denel.

We are aware that the best conduit for the development of the country is unequivocally the South African defence industry. Good luck with the conference. Your patriotism and unwavering commitment to the country will always be cherished.

I thank you.