New Defence and Military Veterans Minister has two deputies

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South African and African National Congress (ANC) leader Cyril Ramaphosa added a second deputy defence and military veterans minister to his seventh administration cabinet made public yesterday (Sunday, 30 June) a month after South Africans voted in national and provincial elections.

That there would be new faces at the Defence and Military Veterans Ministry was a given when election results were declared. Neither previous incumbents Minister Thandi Modise nor her deputy Thabang Makwetla were placed high enough on the majority party candidate list to make parliamentary selection.

Ramaphosa heads the first government since democracy 30 years ago where his party has no outright majority. This led to him “inviting” other parties with parliamentary representation to be part of a government of national unity (GNU) – the second since 1994.

His preferred choice for the post of Defence and Military Veterans Minister is Angie Motshekga, a seasoned politician and long-serving Minister of Basic Education.

She will, as per the Presidential announcement, have two deputy ministers to assist her in managing the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), the Department of Military Veterans (DMV), State-owned defence and security acquisition and project management company Armscor as well as the Castle of Good Hope via the Castle Control Board. Motshekga also has three organs of State reporting to her. They are the Office of the Military Ombud, the Reserve Force Council and the Defence Force Service Council.

Former Transkei Defence Force (TDF) commander, retired major general Bantu Holomisa and United Democratic Movement (UDM) founder and current president, is one of two deputy defence and military veterans ministers. He is no newcomer to GNUs, having served – as an ANC member – in the 1994 GNU alongside the ANC and the then National Party (NP).

Second deputy is Richard Mkhungo. At the time of publication he was not listed as a National Assembly (NA) public representative and is, according to open source information, president of the SA National Civic Organisation (SANCO).

Ahead of being named South Africa’s fourth female defence and military veterans minister at the weekend, Motshekga racked up 15 years as the Cabinet Minister responsible for basic education. Apart from Modise (2021-2024), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (2013–2021) and Lindiwe Sisulu (2009-2012) were previous occupants of the ministerial suite of offices in the Armscor building.

Joe Modise was democratic South Africa’s first defence and military veterans minister, serving from 1994 to 1999. He was followed by Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota (1999-2008) and Charles Nqakula (2008-2009) before the still counting 15 years Ministry of Defence female leadership started.

Commenting on the new appointments, former Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament and Ex-Shadow Minister for Defence and Military Veterans Kobus Marais said he had “mixed feelings” and wondered whether the best candidates were appointed or “was it only a numbers game?”

“Surely there are alternatives available from within the political parties with fit-for-purpose track records and actual specialised capabilities and academic qualifications? Very few of the new appointments were actually involved in their new portfolios while members of the sixth parliamentary administration,” he told defenceWeb.

With regard to defence, “there was enormous expectations and anticipation within the military and defence sector on who the new executive political leadership will be. Never in history have we needed such a competent, capable, experienced defence ministry. The SANDF is in a fast-moving downward spiral which will have devastating consequences if it is not stopped and turned around as the highest priority. With the GDP under constant pressure, we should not expect much new funding from National Treasury, which will leave our soldiers vulnerable with poor support in terms of primary and elementary resources including funding, prime mission equipment, and logistics.

“Some of the first challenges will be to either urgently provide our SADC Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) deployed soldiers with the required resources or withdraw them back home. Current we are playing Russian roulette with their lives.”

As for Holomisa as one of the deputy defence ministers, Marais is grateful of his appointment. “He is unique, with proven experience of both the military and legislative environments and their respective challenges. There will be a lot of pressure and expectations on his shoulders. With the right political support from the Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief he will hopefully make a significant difference to the lives of our soldiers and Military Veterans.”

Defence expert Dean Wingrin noted that Motshekga has a big job ahead to sort out the SA National Defence Force. “Having Holomisa as Deputy is a good move – hopefully he can put the Department of Defence on a stronger footing, despite the appointment of Motshekga as Minister,” he added.

Speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika on Sunday night after Ramaphosa’s cabinet announcement, Holomisa said it’s an honour to be called to serve in the national security of South Africa.

“Fortunately I am familiar with the challenges facing the South African National Defence Force, having served as the deputy chair of the national defence force commission for almost nine years. So I am looking forward to work with the new minister of defence and of course focus more on the need to report to Parliament on the state or readiness of our South African defence force.”

Holomisa said the new leadership within the defence ministry has problems to fix, and regarding international deployments, the mandate has to be redefined, and troops properly equipped.