Archive: SA’s third democratic election comes and goes, no policy changes expected

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South Africa’s third democratic, nonracial election since 1994 has come and gone, leaving in its wake little but speculation on who will come and who will go in President-elect Thabo Mbeki’s office. Mbeki was returned with an overwhelming 70 percent majority by the 75 percent of the 21-million registered voters (out of a population of 45-million) who went to the polls on April 14. Mbeki is being sworn in for his second (and last) term tomorrow (Tuesday).
Mbeki has effectively been running the country since well before his election in 1999. And he runs a tight ship. As a result, regardless of whom gets what portfolio later this week, little change can be expected in national or other policy, particular defence policy and arms acquisitions. At best, a modification can be expected if government agrees to Parliament’s wish for a new Defence Review. To date, the Defence ministry under Mosiuoa Lekota has refused to budge. The last Defence Review was in 1998 and followed on a White Paper issued in 1996. It is with a keen sense of the obvious that I write that the world has
changed somewhat since then. 
  
  
The relative standing of the Defence department has also changed. At the apex of government during the Apartheid era, the department is now in every way junior. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another department of state that has so little impact on government’s stated goal of bettering the life of all the country’s people — except, perhaps the department responsible for “provincial and local government affairs.” Foreign and domestic Defence is a “provide forces” ministry. Peacekeepers provide
“muscle” to the Presidency and foreign affairs establishment while at home the military’s involvement in the fight against crime is strictly under the supervision of the SA Police Service and the Safety and Security ministry. As a department Defence is responsible only for its own internal administration and that of the SA National Defence Force. It is not even solely in charge of acquisitions. Cabinet, not the minister, approves major acquisitions.
  
Not much is changing within the SANDF either. SANDF chief, General Siphiwe Nyanda has been retained for a further five years from May. The Army is expected to revive under Lt Gen Themba Matanzima, the current Chief Joint Support, who is replacing Lt Gen Gilbert Ramano. The chiefs of the other services are expected to remain in place for a few years yet, although many would argue it might be time for those other than the Navy chief to go. The SANDF has four Services, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Military Health Service.
  
For this reason it matters little whether Lekota stays on as minister or whether he is replaced. He is currently African National Congress party chairman and there has been some talk that he should concentrate on this rather than be burdened with a government portfolio. But the fact remains that decisions about the employment of the defence force is made by Mbeki in Cabinet, as are decisions involving major acquisitions. At the moment that means dedicating the SANDF to peacekeeping abroad (there are about 3,000 peacekeepers in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo and a few observers in Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia) and reducing its role at home. Mbeki’s logic is — correctly — that the defence force, like his diplomats, are a foreign policy instrument and should be used as such. He also recognises that no democracy has to garrison itself or permanently buttress its police with soldiers. On the arms acquisition front it means the strategic defence package will go ahead as signed. Two of four Meko A200SAN patrol “corvettes” have already arrived, as has the first of 24 BAE Systems Hawk lead-in fighters. Nine two-seater Gripen are on order and the option for a further 19 single seaters will shortly be exercised. Also on order are 30 Agusta 109 light utility helicopters and the rebound in the Rand make it increasingly likely that the option for a further 10 of those will also be exercised. Due for arrival next year, as frequently reported, are the first of three, as yet-unnamed Type 209-1400MOD diesel-electric submarines. Also already discernable are a number of future acquisitions. As reported earlier this year, some uncommitted acquisition funds will be available in 2007. The Army is also expected to receive new main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles and logistics vehicles (supply trucks) in the decade after 2010.
25 April 2004