Ninety-six percent of DoD/SANDF buildings need maintenance

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The malaise running through Minister Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence (DoD) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) stretches from prime mission equipment through to infrastructure.

This was brought forcibly home when she replied to a question from Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for her portfolio.

She told him 26% – just over a quarter of the 36 890 buildings surveyed by the DoD/SANDF – needed rehabilitation. On the credit side of the ledger no DoD/SANDF used buildings need “total replacement”. There are, however 5 165 buildings (14% of the total) in need of “corrective maintenance” and a further 19 921 (54%) in need of what the Ministerial reply says is “condition-based maintenance”. The remaining six percent (2 213) need “preventative maintenance”.

Modise explained that the DoD had conducted a building condition assessment of the military bases and the facilities used by the DoD, with the assistance of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

All told about R8 billion is needed to clear the building maintenance “backlog”.

In a reply earlier this year to Washington Mafanya (Economic Freedom Fighters), Modise said the SANF has over 52 800 buildings it uses across all nine provinces with the “majority of facilities in a fair state”.

She told Mafanya the national defence force “utilises a large number of State facilities and, to a lesser extent, private facilities to prepare for its constitutional obligations”. These include force preparation, employment and support requiring “land and other unique facilities”.

The Gauteng province, where the military either in the form of the SANDF or the Department of Defence occupy 13 546 buildings, is the most densely populated military province in South Africa, according to Modise’s earlier reply. Next highest is the Western Cape Province with 10 785 buildings used for military purposes. Number three is Limpopo (7 859 buildings) followed by the Northern Cape (6 563), the Free State (4 152), the North West (3 209), KwaZulu-Natal (3 193), Mpumalanga (1 999) and the Eastern Cape (1 559).

The condition of DoD facilities was again in the spotlight this week when it emerged that the Chief of the SANDF’s official residence on the corner of Edward and Rose streets in the upmarket Pretoria suburb Waterkloof has been empty since General Solly Shoke retired in November 2021.

This emerged when Modise replied to a question from Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald on the lack of occupation at the “official residence” of the SANDF Chief.

The kicker, as per Modise’s reply to Groenewald, is the high cost of necessary maintenance and repairs resulting in any financial allocation only coming in the 2024/25 financial year. There is seemingly no chance of burglars or worse accessing the property as it is “guarded by military personnel” while the Department of Defence Finance Division keeps the Tshwane metro municipal account up to date. In February this year the empty property was billed for R8 968.90 (electricity, water, sanitation and “waste removal”) while municipal rates and taxes are, according to the response, in credit.

“The dire state of infrastructure maintenance by the SANDF has already started to negatively affect military operations and place the defence force’s state of readiness at significant risk,” Marais said, pointing out that early this year, the Loftus building in Pretoria – which houses the headquarters of the South African Air Force – had to be evacuated after the Department of Employment and Labour observed that it did not have safe and healthy working conditions due to malfunctioning ventilation systems.

Prime mission equipment maintenance also backlogged

At the other – sharp – end of the SANDF, prime mission equipment (PME) ranging from SA Air Force (SAAF) platforms through to frigates, submarines and the SA Navy (SAN) fleet replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg (A301), as well as ageing infantry fighting vehicles and essential transport for SA Army personnel and equipment are also facing a “backlog”. This, in the case of the SAN, involves overdue mid-life upgrades for its Valour Class frigates and Heroine Class Type 208 submarines.

Last month Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) was on the receiving end of two damning presentations by the DoD audit committee and the Auditor General (AG).

The DoD committee, chaired by Luyanda Mangquku, noted four areas of grave concern if Modise’s DoD is to “turn around its fortunes, avoid regressing in its audit outcomes, improve its service delivery capabilities and ultimately maintain its current mandate”. His presentation went on stating unless the DoD “adopts a full ethics management approach alongside committing to a zero tolerance to fraud and corruption, driven by leadership commitment and capable forensic and investigative capabilities, this department will continue to be consumed by rampant acts of fraud and corruption”.

A subsequent presentation by personnel from AG Tsakani Maluleke’s Chapter Nine institution revealed, among others, irregular expenditure totalling close to R16 billion and performed poorly in its duty to serve the public good. The presentation concluded by pointing out “a culture shift” was needed at the DoD. This should emphasise performance, accountability, transparency and integrity. Additionally, ethical leadership should be enforced with those in charge and command performing effectively and taking accountability for their specific areas of responsibility.

Taking the two presentations as a base Marais told defenceWeb Modise’s response offered nothing as far as solutions go.

He maintains the building and facilities maintenance issue was created by what is now the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), at one time the Department of Public Works calling itself “Government’s landlord”. Unhappiness with the DPWI, now headed by Minister Sihle Zikalala, goes back a long way in the SANDF with then SA Army Chief and now retired SANDF chief, Solly Shoke, taking the bull by the horns and setting up a Works Formation in the landward force. This has grown into a DoD formation, subject to the austerity measures forced onto government’s defence architecture by continually diminishing budgets, prompting Marais to ask “where’s the money going to come from?”

“There’s no budget for building and facilities maintenance and South Africa sits with another major neglect problem and the prospect of further dilapidation without a real solution. This at the same time as other significant challenges regarding PME and can only – sadly – be bad news for bases, buildings and facilities.”

“Military base facilities are the primary support facilities for the country’s state of readiness in case of a national emergency and the fact that they have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of collapse, is a national scandal,” he said.