South Africa is likely to increase its commitment to peacekeeping, says deputy minister of defence and military veterans Thabang Makwetla. He was speaking at defenceWeb’s Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference underway at Gallagher Estate in Midrand north of Johannesburg.
In February this year SA had about 2000 peacekeepers deployed in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (1192), Darfur in Sudan (794) and smaller numbers elsewhere. He told his audience the South African National Defence Force was overstretched but national foreign policy imperatives, including SA’s quest for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, meant it was likely deployments would be “scaled up rather than down.”
“South Africa, as a country is in this peace-keeping endeavour for the long-haul, as President Zuma said, to: ‘Support the peace efforts of the African Union and the United Nations on the African continent’,” Makwetla said.
“Critical to the success of this, our security doctrine and foreign policy, is the diligence we exercise in ensuring that the political solutions, the frameworks of the settlements our peace operations are mounted to support, are credible, inclusive, fair and sustainable, because unilateral political solutions are costly and seldom succeed.”
Taking a step back, Makwetla said the FIFA World Cup this June-July was the biggest and the most extensive deployment of the SANDF on home ground to date, post-1994. “It accorded our armed forces the opportunity to test the operational readiness of most of our formations and capabilities, encompassing landward security, airspace security, maritime security and biological warfare security.
“This display of a wide range of capabilities on home soil was a pleasant opportunity for those responsible for the defence function in our country because in today’s world the security of nation-states is provided for in ways that the extensive deployments of our armed forces of June this year, may indeed remain a rare occurrence into the future.”
Returning to peacekeeping, Makwetla said South Africa’s involvement in peace missions began in September 1999, when Colonel Hans Swart became the country’s first official peacekeeper with his deployment as Capital Liaison Officer in Kampala in support of the peace process in the DRC.
The deputy minister said South Africa has considerable depth in peace-keeping. “This includes the existence of a significant core of senior commanding officers with practical experience in peace-keeping operations. These are military leaders with reputable track-records; commanders who have led their troops in such a way that they have earned South African peace-keeping contingents wherever they are deployed, confidence, trust, and a pride of place among communities they serve.
“In addition, the SANDF has also established the Peace Support Training Centre of all departments involved in peace keeping missions, as part of our efforts to improve our capacity to prosecute peace keeping missions in a more sustainable manner. The Department of Defence has appropriately demonstrated its ability to do costing and accounting to stakeholders to the extend that donor countries want to give donations to South Africa to manage them on behalf of other African countries.
“We have systems and procedures in place to comply with the South African Financial regulatory framework. Good cooperation exists with the National Treasury and the Auditor General in this regard.
“However, there are several areas which require further improvement as part of our learning-curve as a country. These are political, operational, financial, logistical and administrative in nature,” Makwetla said. “Challenges which continue to confront us in the peace-keeping environment include the practice that UN reimburses participating countries on the basis of its own military doctrine pertaining to organisational structures. The SANDF military structures and the deployment of equipment and armament is different from the one employed by the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations (UNDPKO). This results in us deploying more personnel and material than required. The nett effect is increased expenditure with no commensurate increase in reimbursement.
“The long logistic lines and the ‘wet lease approach’ followed by South Africa are issues that may be reconsidered in order to reduce expenditure and increase the reimbursement. This can be achieved by entering into a ‘dry lease agreement’ with the UN where the UN provides the equipment and South Africa provides the person-power to operate the equipments. These and other supply chain management dynamics of UN and AU peace-keeping operations must be sufficiently mastered by our defence managers.
“It also demands of us that we ensure that military teams which negotiate our Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s) governing our troops contribution include financial officers with the requisite knowledge and mandate to advise negotiators.”