The top structure of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is bloated and positions need to be cut in favour of the Army, which is under strength, according to a defence expert.
Defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman notes that “the top structure is bloated with posts and even organisations that serve no detectable purpose other than to provide jobs and cost money.”
A significant portion of the defence budget goes towards paying salaries – according to the defence budget for 2016/17, which notes that 57% of the total defence budget of R47.169 billion – just on R27 billion – will go towards “compensation of employees”. There are around 80 000 men and women in uniform and civilian clothing who make up the personnel of the SA National Defence Force, according to the Department of Defence (DoD) and the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV).
South Africa has one of the highest general troop ratios world-wide, which is expensive and ineffective and impacts on the morale of soldiers, according to former service members, defence analysts and institutions such as Transparency International.
Heitman acknowledges this but believes the solution is not the usually presented one of cutting the SANDF personnel strength. “The Army is about 10 000 bodies short of the strength it needs to do what it is supposed to do,” he states, with the Army’s problem lying largely with over-age and over-weight soldiers in junior posts who cannot simply be thrown onto the street, but who block rejuvenation of the combat force.
“But we must also be careful not to trim things that are useful and particularly we need to understand that the Army and Navy are not badly over-strength for the envisaged force levels, nor badly over-generalled. The problem lies in the overhead and supporting organisations.”
Given that the Army is under strength, “there are posts that could be cut elsewhere in favour of the Army: The SAAF [South African Air Force] is quite clearly over-strength and over-ranked in terms of the number of generals; there is a question why we have a Chief of Logistics and a Chief of Personnel (still called HR) whose organisations do not seem to do much that is not already being done at service level; there is another question why we have an independent Medical Service with a three-star head and a whole tribe of generals, when the old system of an Army Medical Corps and medical specialists in the Air Force and Navy worked perfectly well. And why does DI [Defence Intelligence] need to be a three-star post when it worked perfectly well under a one-star DMI [Directorate of Military Intelligence]?
“So there is a lot of trimming that could be done to make the defence force more effective and efficient, although that would not cut personnel figures and would only cut personnel costs a bit. If we really want to be serious, we either fund the defence force for a regional role, or we keep funding at present levels and give up any regional role. Then we could cut about 15 000 posts, but would also in time lose the industry – because we would not be buying enough and its jobs.
“Returning to unnecessary posts in the top structure, I am told that there is a brigadier-general with the title Director Gender Equity Strategy. That suggests a Chief Director with a similar inane and irrelevant post description, and a bunch of colonels and others in that directorate. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
“But before we criticise the defence force,” Heitman cautions, “consider the Police: Divisional Commissioners were once brigadiers, with colonels heading their staff sections; now they are lieutenant-generals, with numbers of major-generals and brigadier-generals on their staffs – in some cases even some lieutenant-generals. District Commissioners were lieutenant-colonels; today they are major-generals. And we even have a couple of brigadier-generals as station commanders. No wonder there is not enough money for the constables and sergeants!”
Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais last year said “One would seriously expect a much smaller spend on staff in the SANDF where capital equipment such as aircraft, combat vehicles, ships and vehicles to name just a few should receive a larger share of the budget,” adding the SANDF “has struggled to fulfil its mandate”.
“There is no way South Africa can afford the SANDF the government wants. We must cut our cloth to size and do it quickly,” he said.
In earlier analysis, Heitman stated that “government must finally become serious about defence: It must either fund the Defence Force to a level commensurate with what it expects the Defence Force to do, or it must redefine national policy to fit what the Defence Force can do on current funding levels.
“In the latter case the Defence Force will have to shrink to fit the budget if it is to retain useful capability, concentrating on border and maritime security (including the Mozambique Channel through which most of our oil moves and the ports of which are critical to the SADC economy), airspace surveillance, Special Forces and a small conventional force as a core deterrent to any military adventures in the immediate neighbourhood. It can then also look to cutting back the ‘overhead’ structures that currently absorb so many people and so much funding.”
In May last year defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament that the Military Command planning team was working on right-sizing the SANDF personnel complement, developing a new military strategy spelling out utilisation of military resources in line with Defence Review policy objectives and developing an appropriate force design and structure.