Booi, Maynier spar on defence


Mnyamezeli Booi, chairman of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans has issued a rare media statement to publicly take issue with Democratic Alliance defence shadow minister David Maynier, who replies that Booi seems to be doing “some political knife work for the minister” and has turned constitutional democracy on its head.

“While I believe that the portfolio committee – tasked with the oversight of the Department of Defence and Military Veterans – is the most appropriate body for public representatives to debate and raise these matters, I feel compelled to respond to sensational and irresponsible statements regarding matters of national security,” he said in the statement.
“I have noted the media statements made by Hon David Maynier on matters relating to the implications of the appointment of Lieutenant General [Themba] Matanzima as the acting Secretary for Defence, the calls for the rejection of the SANDF’s proposals on securing our borders and his reported statements made during our consideration of the 2010/2011 defence budget allocation and Strategic Plan.
“General Matanzima has been appointed on a temporary basis and the appointment of a permanent Secretary of Defence is yet to be finalised. Civilian control over the defence force is enshrined in our constitution and Mr Maynier’s argument that General Matanzima’s appointment is a threat to this principle is unsubstantiated and unconvincing. We have however, expressed our concerns over the delay in permanently appointing an accounting officer and the implications this has on the morale of defence personnel and the effective management of the Department.
“It goes without saying that if Lt Gen Matanzima is found to be the most suitable candidate to fill the post on a permanent basis, the Defence Force will not hesitate to appoint him permanently, as it cannot be dictated to or be influenced by misguided perceptions of ill-informed members of the Committee who wants to get media mileage out of each and every issue that might be remotely controversial,” Booi said.
“The security of our borders is a national priority. Representatives of the South African National Defence Force engaged the committee in a frank discussion on their readiness and the challenges to the implementation of its four-year strategy. While the SANDF expressed concern over the funding of this strategy, this needs to be implemented within budgetary constraints. It is therefore disappointing that Mr Maynier chooses to reject the whole proposal, without proposing an alternative strategy that accommodates current financial and time constraints and will secure our borderlines more effectively. It is also worthwhile to note that the Defence Force has fulfilled this task before and is therefore in a very good position to judge what is viable and can work in practice.
“The assertion that many of our airplanes will be more in the hangars, that our ships will mostly be in port over the MTEF period, lacks insight and an understanding of how the Defence Force as a whole operates. To assert that ships will not be able to sail and planes not able to fly, is disingenuous to say the least. Both the Chiefs of the Navy and Air Force have assured the Committee over time, that they will be able to protect our air space and territorial waters with the personnel and equipment available. This is reinforced by an objective threat analysis of the security environment in the sub-continental region.
“It is therefore wrong of Mr Maynier and the so-called defence expert to say that the defence force might as well shut its doors. This is not only an insult to the government as a whole and specifically the Defence Department, but also the people of South Africa who have placed their faith in the Defence Force in the capable hands of the generals and admirals under the guidance of the Defence Ministry. Those who take the effort to properly understand the defence force and how it is being managed, how decisions are made, realise that these accusations are not only disingenuous, but lack insight and the necessary information to come to such conclusions.
“Parliamentary defence committees play a key role in ensuring the effective functioning of a strong defence force. We cannot compromise the integrity of our own institution through irresponsible and ill-informed statements on matters that impact on both the morale of our defence force and also the security of all South Africans,” Booi said.

Maynier responded that Booi was himself guilty of the charge he levelled. “The Hon Booi seems to be doing some political knife work for the minister and has turned constitutional democracy on its head. His job is to scrutinise and oversee the defence department – not to defend [it].”
“The fact of the matter is that the appointment of … Matanzima is a backwards step for the effective civilian control of the military. Think about the Council of Defence: the Acting Secretary of Defence, General Matanzima, who is a serving military officer, is subordinate to the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Godfrey Ngwenya. The relative power of the military within in the Council of Defence is therefore significantly strengthened and [this] undermines the civilian control of the military.
“We cannot have a situation were the military in effect colonises the civilian secretariat of defence. If the civilian secretariat have not managed the defence force efficiently – and there is plenty of evidence of that – then the remedy must surely be to is to overhaul it rather than to allow it to be colonised by the military.
“Moreover, the portfolio committee … has never received a briefing or any assurances from General Ngwenya or the service chiefs on the military preparedness of the SANDF.”

Pic: A SA Army Mamba MRAP at the Combat Training Centre at Lohatlha in September 2009. The vehicle is either due for factory repair or disposal. Either way, the wheels are off.