Defence and security neglected by Ramaphosa in his SONA

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Probably the most committed defence watcher in the National Assembly (NA) maintains President Cyril Ramaphosa did not do the wider South African defence sector any favours during last week’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV), points to no mention of defence intelligence in the debacle of last July’s violent unrest, shortages aplenty regarding the South African component of SAMIM (SADC Mission in Mozambique) and the continually decreasing capabilities of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

The only bright spot in Ramaphosa’s SONA, Marais maintains, is mention of the utilisation of the SA Army Engineer Formation to better connect rural communities with services by way of the Welisizwe rural bridges programme. He asks pertinently how many Regular Force Sappers the formation can call on for the “seemingly mammoth task” of putting up 95 Bailey bridge type structures in a year.

“Given the criticism of South African intelligence structures by the Presidentially appointed panel to investigate last July’s widespread unrest, rioting and looting, no mention of specific agencies, including Defence Intelligence, was a bad omission.”

On South Africa’s involvement in SAMIM via Operation Vikela, Marais questioned the deployment.

“The President is quick to authorise employment of soldiers to Ops Corona, Mistral, Copper, Prosper, Chariot and now Vikela. I was hoping he would give an indication of our commitment to the SADC (Southern African Development Community) SAMIM force, what we have to contribute in terms of money, manpower and equipment and how this will be funded. As it stands we do not have adequate funding for all obligations and commitments from an ever shrinking budget. Again it seems more of the ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ approach which can result in a total collapse of our defence capabilities.

“We were assured SADC would pay all costs, but that promise seems to be fading away and the reality is no such thing has materialised,” he said, adding another unfulfilled expectation was the death of Special Forces operator Corporal Tebogo Radebe would galvanise support for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment under Operation Vikela.

“Nothing was mentioned.”

Other Presidential misses in SONA, Marais said, were the revival/resuscitation of defence capabilities, the Cuban drug “disaster” and Project Thusano.

“Hoping against hope I thought the Commander-in-Chief might give an indication of restructuring in both the SANDF and the Department of Defence (DoD) to reduce regular force and civilian numbers and increased utilisation of the Reserve Force.

“Sadly, none of these were raised. The same with the dire state of the local defence industry led by Denel and the lack of maintenance on equipment ranging from fighter jets (Gripen) through to mid-life upgrades for SA Navy (SAN) platforms,” he said, adding “I’m not overly optimistic about the next hurdle – the national budget on 23 February”.

The state of the defence industry particularly Denel and progress on SANDF projects will come under the spotlight tomorrow (16 February) at a scheduled Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) meeting. Among others, Defence Minister Thandi Modise and Armscor will brief on the future of projects Biro, Hotel and Hoefyster as well as plans to address SA Army combat vehicle requirements and the maintenance status of the SA Air Force fleet (SAAF) by Denel and other service providers.