Operations other than war (OOTW) take up the vast majority of the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) working hours with taskings ranging from building bridges through to delivery of ballot papers for elections as well as safeguarding borders and being an active component of government foreign policy.
“Many people seem to think the defence force is surplus to national requirements because South Africa is not fighting a war,” an SA Army brigadier general told defenceWeb on condition of anonymity.
“Just the opposite, because there is no war in the true sense of the word doesn’t mean the SANDF is not a deployed force.”
Army chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo elaborated on some of the work his arm of service is doing when he addressed a recent media event at the Army College in Thaba Tshwane.
“The SA Army is increasingly becoming involved in OOTW. As a force, we understand the bond we share with South Africa and we readily extend our support to the people when the need arises.
“We are, after all, servants of the people,” he said.
This helping hand approach saw soldiers conspicuous in camouflage during the May 7 general elections ensuring registered voters were able to cast their ballots without interference.
“Soldiers also maintained stability in a non-partisan manner in Alexandra when chaotic elements threatened to derail the Constitutionally protected smooth polling process,” Masondo said.
Similarly soldiers were essential to ensuring ballot papers made it safely to the Wonderkop area of North West, scene of the now infamous Marikana massacre.
The man in charge of the single largest component of the SANDF also points to the work done by the Sappers in making life easier for people in rural parts of the country. Using Bailey bridges engineer/soldiers have provided communities in Eastern Cape, among others, with an easier way of moving from place to place, even if it is on foot for purposes as varied as going to school, visiting a clinic and accessing potable water.
When it comes to taskings more in the accepted military tradition, the Army is the backbone of Operation Corona. There are currently 13 companies deployed along South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia trying to halt the flow of illegals and contraband goods into the country and prevent stolen vehicles and livestock, among others, from leaving South Africa.
The SANDF is an integral part of government’s foreign policy and this means soldiers are and will find themselves deployed as part of African Union (AU) and/or United Nations (UN) peacekeeping, peace support and peace building missions in Africa.
This was made clear by Masondo who said South Africa would only go back to the Central African Republic (CAR) if “asked to by the AU”.
South African soldiers supported by their colleagues from the SA Air Force are currently deployed in Darfur and the DRC while the Navy maintains a presence in the Mozambique Channel.
Masondo maintains the long-awaited Defence Review provides an opportunity for his arm of service “to be bolstered in its efforts to fulfil its Constitutional mandate, that of providing combat ready forces to safeguard our borders and territorial integrity while also playing a role in laying a foundation from which social development would be possible”.
The Defence Review, which will shape the SANDF over the next 30 years, is due to come under the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans at its second meeting of the second Parliamentary term of this year next Thursday.
“The committee will receive a comprehensive briefing that should include the implications of the (tabled) Defence Review and whether this updated defence policy could lead to the amendment of current legislation,” the committee’s second term programme states.
This is currently the only mention the Defence Review has in the committee’s second term programme.