The South African Military Assistance and Training Team (SAMATT) must be properly resourced if it is to succeed, defence experts say.
SAMATT, based on a similar British institution active in SA since 1994, was established in 2007 in terms of a Department of Defence Instruction approved by the Plenary Defence Staff Council and has carried out training missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republic (CAR).
SAMATT has attracted some controversy in the National Assembly as neither training mission was budgeted for and money had to be diverted to the team to fund its budget. Several MPs complained about what they saw as unfunded mandates. One questioned whether the SANDF should spend money training foreigners when that funding was diverted from budgets intended for other purposes.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group reports that ANC MP Pamela Daniels remarked that the DoD was claiming that it had insufficient funding “and yet assistance was granted, at a cost to the Department, to the CAR”.
She was speaking at a DoD briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Defence regarding its 2008 Annual Report.
This noted that Cabinet had approved the CAR training (Operation Vimbezela). The DoD had sought to obtain funding for the mission as an “unforeseeable and unavoidable” expense of R81.386 million but Treasury declined to fund it, although giving permission that the support be (re)funded through the African Renaissance Fund.
The DRC mission, Project Thebe, cost R9.142 million in the 2007/8 financial year and came about as a result of the Defence Cooperation Agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding on Practical Assistance with the Integration of Armed Forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The annual report records that the DoD “had to reprioritise within its allocation since this request was received after the adjustments budget process.”
Institute for Security Studies defence programme head Maj Gen Len le Roux (Ret) says SAMATT is a good idea. “SA can play a much more positive role in defence transformation in Africa. Will it work? Only if the DOD takes it seriously, provides competent staff and obtains sufficient funding from Parliament.”
SA Military Academy scholar Dr Francois Vrey agrees, saying the innovation is “most probably an alignment with the defence update and its emphasis upon defence diplomacy.
“It is of course a good response to early warning signals, as well as to consolidate in the post-conflict phase. … SAMATT can also operate across Africa with a lower profile and thus less intrusive.”