‘Despondence and gloom’ over defence force

4241

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has said that people have resigned to ‘despondence and gloom’ over recent events affecting the South African National Defence Force, including several Air Force crashes, the deaths of 14 troops in the Central African Republic and the Guptagate affair.

Mapisa-Nqakula made the comments during her defence budget debate yesterday. She said that, “while some of us have resigned to the despondence and gloom of the moment, the continued selfless dedication and sacrifice of our soldiers should be celebrated and, on an occasion such as this, we should not miss the opportunity to let them know the extent of our indebtedness to them.”

The minister said that the defence force’s challenges “were starkly exposed following our mission to Bangui [in the Central African Republic], the accidents in our aviation environment and the recent unauthorised use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base for private purposes (by Gupta family wedding guests).”
“In the aftermath of these events, the department has had to conduct deep introspection and review, the result of which will have serious implications for the work and organisation of our armed forces, particularly during this financial year,” she said, during debate on the R40.243 billion 2013/14 defence budget.

The chief of the South African National Defence Force (CSANDF) and the Military Command Council have conducted an assessment of some weaknesses and determined the interventions that need to be made in the immediate, short term and long term planning.
“The lessons drawn, in particular in relation to the CAR, are already assisting us in the planning, force preparation, and deployment to current and future operations,” the minister said.
“Following the report of the Directors-General on the investigation of the use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base for private purpose, the SANDF is conducting a review aimed at strengthening weaknesses identified in command and control, policy and delegations, as well as the standard operating procedure governing the use and access to all our facilities.
“Although the public has, and will continue to have access to various of our facilities, including Military Bases, these need to be regulated in accordance with the required level of sensitivity and security.”

Defence review

The Defence Review will go some way to addressing the current gaps that exist in relation to funding, structures, human resources and capability, according to the minister. “The finalisation of the Defence Review has already taken into account some of the weaknesses in our design, tactical planning, legislation and operational requirements that led to these challenges.”

The Defence Review has been completed and submitted for Cabinet’s approval. The defence ministry is preparing to align its planning activities to accommodate the implementation of the defence review’s recommendations. “This may require that some reprioritisation and adjustment be made to both our plans and financial projections for this year,” she said.

Although the minister has dragged her feet on the Defence Review, she said that, “We need more frequent reviews to respond to the pace of technological advances within the military sphere and ever changing geo-political environments going forward.”

Heroism

Although she pointed out some of the difficulties the defence force is going through at the moment, Mapisa-Nqakula urged people to appreciate the “sterling work done on a daily basis by members of the SANDF, in ensuring the security and sovereignty of our country…The country should not be ashamed to associate itself, and show pride in their heroism, even during times of challenges and despondency.”

Present during the budget debate in parliament yesterday was Sussete Gates, a civilian who works in the Finance Management Division. The minister praised her for her service as financial officer during the mission in the CAR. During the rebel advance in March, she returned to base to fetch R3 million in foreign currency and accounting documents “at great risk to her life.”
“She was confronted by the rebels who wanted to take the bags in which she hid the money. She managed to convince them that she was carrying clothes and hitch hiked with French troops to the airport.”

Another of her colleagues, Corporal Nkoana, was also singled out for bravery that went “beyond the call of duty” in Bangui. Nicknamed the “human navigator,” she guided 16 SANDF members to safety following an ambush by Seleka rebels.
“Corporal Nkoana, a medic, took the lead and decided on the best way out of a potential ambush situation. For two long days and nights, they moved under her command and guidance, carrying casualties of war. She kept the commanders informed of their position and situation at all times. Her actions saved all 16 of our soldiers including two who were shot.”



Mapisa-Nqakula said these women represented the finest qualities of the new SANDF, and called them heroines and true patriots.