The cost of South Africa’s military misadventure in the Central African Republic (CAR) can now be measured not only in lost lives but also financially, with no less than R163 million expended in four months on the deployment.
This was revealed in answer to a Parliamentary question posed by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister David Maynier.
In her reply, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said allowances for troops, operating and related costs between January 1 and April 9 totalled R54.4 million.
“Shockingly, in the same period, R108.8 million was spent on chartering aircraft,” Maynier said following scrutiny of the Ministerial reply.
“This is clear and quantifiable evidence of a major air transport capability gap in the SA Air Force (SAAF). In the end the SANDF was drawn into a battle it could not supply and the shambles which resulted cost 15 soldiers their lives.”
The arrival of 13 bodybags at AFB Waterkloof following the Battle for Bangui at the end of March was the single biggest loss of life suffered by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in a single incident since democracy. Another two soldiers, wounded during the nine hour long firefight outside the CAR capital, have since died.
The Ministerial reply also drew scathing response from the country’s largest military trade union, with Sandu (SA National Defence Union) national secretary Pikkie Greeff terming the deployment “an exercise in utter foolishness”.
“Costs of this magnitude were never revealed to Parliament during the process of obtaining approval for the risky adventure into the CAR. This amounts to total flaunting of the Constitution,” he said adding a proper and independent investigation was needed.
This has to cover the deployment itself and the accuracy of detail provided by SANDF Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, and the SANDF ahead of Parliamentary approval.
Maynier again voiced the need for a full-scale Parliamentary inquiry into the CAR deployment. To date there has been only one parliamentary debate on the CAR deployment – on April 23.
Greeff maintains the CAR spend was at the expense of thousands of soldiers who “are robbed of timeous career development by a backlog of promotion courses and facilities while they are daily made to work in dismal circumstances with redundant and outdated equipment”.
Speaking after her budget vote in Cape Town last month, Mapisa-Nqakula showed awareness of the poor state of airlift capability in the SAAF when she indicated she was “not happy” with having people fly in aircraft more than 60 years old.
She was referring specifically to the C-47TP operated by 35 Squadron that crashed in the Drakensberg last December killing all 11 people aboard.
In terms of operating “old” aircraft, 28 Squadron has just marked its 50th anniversary flying the C-130BZ. While the SAAF is confident it can keep the venerable, four-engined transport aircraft going until at least 2020, military aviation experts have warned work to replace them should start as soon as possible.
“With an at least three year waiting time before delivery and assuming work on replacing the BZs starts now it means 2016 will be here before the first new aircraft arrives so there’s not that much time left,” George Schultz, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of C-130 programmes, said when he was in South Africa for the 28 Squadron anniversary function.