Defence and Military Veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has warned that the reduced defence budget puts South Africa at risk from terrorism, internal instability and lawlessness as a result of illegal immigration, trafficking and smuggling.
In her defence budget vote address for 2018/19 delivered on 18 May, the minister said that “South Africa’s constrained ability to effectively manage, monitor and react to land, air and maritime threats allows for the continuous inflow of illegal migrants, smuggling of goods, weapons and human trafficking. These factors contribute to internal instability and lawlessness.”
The minister reminded that she warned last year already that the persistent and continued dramatic downward trend in real-terms of the funding allocation to defence has reached a point where the Department of Defence (DOD) runs the risk of losing more of its essential capabilities, in addition to those already lost.
“Some of the countries in the SADC [Southern African Development Community] are injecting financial resources to build their military capacity through acquisition programmes. Conversely, South Africa is on a path of reduced defence expenditure.”
This reduction, she said, “poses serious constraints to defence and the Plan to Arrest the Defence Decline [as part of Milestone One of the 2015 Defence Review] remains unfunded.” In spite of engagements with the National Treasury (NT) and the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) over the last year, “the defence allocation has not improved. Specifically, the critical requirement to raise the defence base-line during the [five year] MTEF [Medium Term Expenditure Framework] by R18.2 billion to implement the Defence Review has not been realised. In this year alone, we have a reduction of R5.8 billion, and specifically a R3.2-billion shortfall in the Compensation of Employees allocation. The reduction translates to an R18 billion reduction over the MTEF.”
This reduction comes at a time when the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is burdened with a variety of tasks. For instance, it is currently involved in border safeguarding operations along the Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana borders. Due to the current budget cut, the roll-out from the current 15 sub units to 22 sub units will probably be delayed. However, the minister noted that soldiers deployed on Operation Corona border patrol duties have received 200 vehicles to patrol the borderline.
“The Defence Force will continue to conduct maritime border safeguarding operations under Operation Corona, ensuring a joint and multi-agency approach in safeguarding South Africa’s maritime zones and providing a secure environment for the accelerated economic growth initiatives of Operation Phakisa. The SA Navy’s visible presence and active patrols has led to the absence of piracy incidents in the Mozambique Channel and the total absence of maritime piracy within South Africa’s maritime zones.”
Maritime security is also being strengthened through the Navy’s involvement in Operation Phakisa, with the Navy getting three locally built patrol vessels and a hydrographic survey vessel. “Armscor has also supported Operation Phakisa through capability technologies at a total cost of R6.26 billion in investment, which will create 570 high-technical direct jobs and 4560 indirect jobs over a period of five years.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said that South Africa supports the United Nations intention to downscale the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where South African troops are deployed. “However, in doing so this should not affect the capacity and capability of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) which has an enforcement mandate requiring robust combat capabilities. The withdrawal of some of these capabilities led to fatal casualties for the Tanzanian contingent of the FIB. We therefore cannot accept that South Africa withdraws its assets, in particular the Rooivalk, which would weaken our combat capability and place our troops at risk.
“In terms of our SADC commitments and foreign policy objectives, our Commander-in-Chief remains the mediator in Lesotho. South Africa has pledged its support to the SADC Police and Military Operation in Lesotho (SAPMIL). We await further instructions from our Commander-in-Chief.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa supports the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) as a precursor to the African Standby Force and will be the framework nation for ACIRC in 2020 and will continue to participate as a volunteer nation throughout.
The minister said the SANDF, through its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response operations, has continued to provide support for disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and search and rescue missions on an ongoing basis. An example was the recent fire-fighting in the Eastern and Western Capes, building of bridges in rural communities and the South African Military Health Services deployment to the North West Province.
Given the many tasks assigned to the SANDF and its limited budget, Mapisa-Nqakula said its ambitions are unsustainable. “Not only is the Defence Force expected to defend and protect South Africa, it is expected to rapidly intervene during crises on the Continent. It must sustain peace support operations and continuously secure the land borders, the full maritime zone and the airspace. We also expect the Defence Force to be a key role-player in the cyber-defence of South Africa and to support other Departments, when required. We further expect our Defence Force to execute our many international obligations.
“This level of ambition is not sustainable on the current level of funding. I want to repeat what I said last year; South Africa has now reached the point where it must make a decision on the kind of Defence Force it wants and what it can afford.” She said that defence should remain mandate driven, and not budget driven as is currently the case.
As a result of the reduction in funding, Mapisa-Nqakula said it should be assumed defence will remain on this downward funding trajectory for the foreseeable future, meaning urgent steps will have to be taken to stabilise the Department and create a more sustainable defence capability, at a lower-level than was envisaged in the 1998 and 2015 Defence Reviews.
“We must put in place dramatic measures to ensure that the Defence Force can sustainably function within this reduced allocation. I have directed the Department to formulate targeted interventions to achieve short-term sustainability,” she said. This does not include personnel cuts, but covers things like disposing of legacy and irreparable equipment and ammunition and reducing facilities costs. Assets will also be sweated, and under-utilised facilities will be leased out.
“South Africa is a peaceful country that lives in harmony with its neighbours. However, the unpredictability of the strategic environment, together with emerging conflict trends on the African continent, requires us to maintain a credible military force as a deterrent,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
The Defence Review 2015 warned us that: “No country can be considered immune from international acts of terror that are difficult to counter, owing to the international networks involved, and which may be perpetrated by individuals not affiliated to a specific country or group, but to an ideological cause”. Terrorism poses a real danger to our region.
Other potential threats she warned of include the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and privately owned small aircraft to threaten the safety and security of South Africans; the growing cyber threat; and natural and man-made disasters including global warming.