South Africa currently has roughly 2 480 military personnel deployed for peacekeeping and related tasks in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Darfur, in the Central African Republic (CAR) and aboard a frigate in the Mozambique Channel.
There have been questions why South Africa should be militarily engaged in those countries. A good case can, in fact, be made for the deployments. In the case of the DRC, the CAR and the Mozambique Channel, primarily on the basis of simple, selfish, self-interest: the DRC is a fellow-SADC member and potentially a very lucrative market for South Africa – if it stabilises. The CAR is an immediate neighbour of the DRC and greater instability there would impact on the DRC. The Mozambique Channel is a key shipping route for South Africa and also important to Tanzania and vital to Mozambique, both fellow SADC members.
The engagement in Sudan is different in that there is no direct linkage, but is clearly a part of South Africa’s effort to be accepted as a major actor in Africa. Remember here the effort that was put into winning the chair of the African Union Commission and the continuing effort to win a proposed permanent African seat on the United Nations Security Council. That too can be seen as perfectly logical – being accepted as the major actor in Africa and a ‘player’ on the international stage can open some useful doors for South Africa.
The question to ask against that background is whether South Africa is, in fact, doing enough to build the image the government is seeking. Listening to government officials one would be excused for believing the answer to be yes.
But looking at the actual level of commitment to supporting peacekeeping and stabilisation in Africa, one must wonder how serious Pretoria is.
Last year there were 24 African states providing major (a company or more) troop contingents for peacekeeping and similar operations. Comparing South Africa’s level of engagement will indicate just how serious Pretoria really is:
• South Africa’s economy is by far the largest in Africa, about 1/3rd that of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa and about 1/4th that of the entire continent. It is also the 27th or 29th, depending on whose figures one uses, largest economy in the world.
• South Africa’s commitment to peacekeeping and stabilisation in Africa, compared to the other African countries with troops deployed for that purpose, places it:
o 9th out of 24 in terms of the actual number of troops deployed, and
o 22nd out of 24 in terms of the number of troops relative to economic strength.
That is not the performance of a country that is seriously committed to security and stability in its region, and South Africa’s under-performance in this regard has not passed unnoticed. It is, in fact, something of a disappointment to many African governments – and others – who had hoped that the major economic power of the continent would play a commensurate role in matters of regional security.
The problem, of course, is that the Army is already over-committed and over-stretched and cannot take on more commitments without suffering long-term damage in respect of training, morale and retention. Nor can the Navy take on more commitments; with only four surface combatants it is already badly under-strength for the tasks of patrolling South African waters and the Mozambique Channel.
That leaves the Air Force. Leaving aside for the moment that it has almost no airlift and must fly maritime surveillance in 70-year old aircraft, it should be able to deploy a helicopter force – Rooivalk and Oryx – to support ground forces in one or the other peace support operation, or a fighter detachment – Gripen and perhaps also Hawk – for air policing, reconnaissance or interdiction tasks. But it has been so under-funded that one must wonder how many of its few pilots, navigators and weapons officers have been flying enough and using their systems and weapons enough to be combat-ready? Not to mention how it would support any deployment?
And there is the little technical problem that it has almost no guided air-to-ground weapons for the Gripen and Hawk and none for the Rooivalk, problematical in peace support where it is critical not to hit the wrong target.
The bottom line is that we certainly ‘talk the talk’ but are not funding the Defence Force at a level that would enable it to ‘walk the walk’ on our behalf. And while citizens and taxpayers can be convinced that we cannot put more into defence because we need the money for social programmes, that will hardly convince people in the DRC, in the CAR or in Darfur who are vastly worse off and are suffering the consequences of armed conflict and banditry.
Sooner or later we are going to be told quite bluntly that it is time to pay up or shut up.
Peace support operation troop contributions vs Gross Domestic Product:
Peace support troop contributions by Gross Domestic Product:
Peace support troop contributions by troops deployed:
Peace support troop contributions vs Gross Domestic Product: