Parliament’s defence committee worried about SANDF budget


Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence says it is concerned by the continued reduction of the budget of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which is compromising the ability of the SANDF to carry out its constitutional mandate.

The committee said this in a statement last week after a briefing on 12 September from the South African Air Force (SAAF) and Navy on flying and sea hours and the capacity to effectively utilise their assets.

“While the committee acknowledges the difficulties faced by the national fiscus due to dwindling revenue base vis-a-vis competing social imperatives, it is of the view that a substantial investment into the military serves both the security of the sovereignty of the country and investment into the local defence manufacturing industry which will stimulate economic growth and job creation,” it said.

The committee has also highlighted its concern that it will not only take a long time to regain lost capability, but it will also cost even more than currently required.

“We are facing a ticking time bomb. It is a matter of concern that SANDF plans currently are based on “as resourced” model, and not on Joint Force Employment Requirement. The consequence of the decline in budgets translates in decline in capabilities, something which if continues, will further cripple the ability of securing the country,” said the Co-Chairperson of the committee Cyril Xaba.

“We view the South African defence manufacturing industry as a key growth point with a potential to bring in massive resources into the country, and induce economic activity. The adequate funding of the SANDF will ensure stability of the industry in that predictability will be ensured thereby enabling the South African industry to compete across the globe,” argued Mamagase Nchabeleng, who is the other Co-Chairperson of the committee.

Regarding the SAAF and the Navy, the committee has emphasised their importance in the security of the country, and enabling trade through anti-piracy operations along the Mozambican channel. As such, the committee has suggested the reprioritisation of funds towards capability upgrade, capital funds, and force preparation.

The committee emphasised that action is urgently needed to stop anything that compromises the defence capability of the SANDF.

That the South African Air Force and Navy are in dire financial straits is no surprise, and it’s impossible to have a South African National Defence Force that’s able to meet its mandate on the current budget, defence expert Darren Olivier, director at African Defence Review, has warned.

“The mismatch between what the SANDF is mandated to do (and what the public expects) versus what it’s actually funded for is too large. At the very core it’s a simple choice: either increase the defence budget to match the mandate, or reduce the mandate and force size to match the budget. The gap is too big to be solved by organisational efficiencies or austerity alone, much of which has already been done,” Olivier stated.

“Part of the problem is that the level of public debate about the SANDF in most media is simplistic and wrong. Too much focus on the 90s, statements like ‘too many generals’ without understanding what that actually means quantitatively, and not knowing how a military functions.

“The well has also been poisoned by a whole host of myths that have emerged over the years about the SANDF being ‘useless’, ‘AIDS-riddled’, ‘undeployable’, and having non-functioning equipment, all misleading and which blinded the public to the actual situation.

“On top of that the SANDF has done itself no favours through its perpetually dysfunctional public and media relations approach and an outdated belief in and reliance on near total secrecy on operational matters, which has allowed false beliefs and misunderstandings to persist.

“We’re now at a critical inflection point: we need a new Defence Review now and we need open, honest, and serious debate in Parliament and the media about what we want our defence force to be able to do within what we’re willing to spend. It will mean difficult choices.

“One thing though is clear: it’s impossible to have an SANDF that’s able to fully defend our borders; conduct internal operations; and do search and rescue, firefighting, disaster response, etc on R50 billion a year. It’s too big a task for that amount of money. Something must give.”