Opposition parties – the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) – both bemoaned the sorry state of affairs in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in reaction to Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s defence budget vote address.
FF+ leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald, said the lax and undisciplined command structure of the SANDF led directly to men and women in uniform generally being undisciplined.
As an example he pointed to recent events at the SA Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC) in Potchefstroom where 25 horses had to be put down.
“Members are not doing their jobs and just sit around waiting for month-end and pay. They did not even go to the trouble of checking whether all the horses were there and if they had sufficient feed,” he said.
DA shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais, was just as forthright.
“At this rate and with ongoing deterioration of discipline and an unwillingness to act decisively, it is not a matter of if but rather when we will have to close down our once proud SANDF, leaving our land and economy exposed.
“The chances of us progressing beyond Milestone One of the Defence Review are diminishing by the day, making the 2015 Defence Review irrelevant and unrealistic and there must be a revision,” he said in response to the Minister’s address in the National Assembly.
Marais added that “numerous calls” had not yet resulted in a restructuring of the SANDF, reprioritising strategies and spending or the crafting of an exit mechanism for excess staff.
“The average age of all Department of Defence (DoD) staff is close to 50 and for privates close to 32. This is not realistic, largely because of dependence on infantry units. It also creates the perception of the SANDF as an ‘old boys club’ and a provider of protected jobs for cronies,” Marais said.
He wants the SANDF to focus on land border patrol and protection, maritime patrol and supporting the oceans economy and on regional peacekeeping to secure political and economic stability.
Marais appealed to Mapisa-Nqakula to prioritise the national defence force’s interest over her political interests. This includes urgently restructuring the SANDF based on its current and foreseeable role, acquiring affordable aircraft for multipurpose transport uses, ensuring improved logistics for soldiers deployed on Operation Corona and in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as selling half the Gripen fleet and the VIP fleet.