The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is facing a “catastrophic” multi-billion-Rand financial crisis that could force mass retrenchments and the indefinite postponement of the acquisition of essential equipment.
Johannesburg daily The Times reported defence secretary Sam Gulube as saying a R1.1 billion budget shortfall could compel the SANDF into large-scale retrenchments and compulsory early retirement in order to survive and pay salaries.
The budget shortfall also meant the SANDF would have to cut operations and acquisitions.
Gulube was speaking after briefing Parliament’s defence portfolio committee.
The defence force’s descent into crisis was slammed by the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) and a defence analyst said the proposed cost-saving measures would degrade the SANDF – already “catatonic” – even more.
Gulube said the Department of Defence was unable to fill 4 000 posts because of insufficient funding.
Various options were being considered, he said, including cutting employees and extending working hours between now and March 2015.
“We hope that for the next financial year we will be covered.
“For the remuneration of employees, we are about R1.1 billion short. By the end of this year, I will have to balance these books.
“When posts are vacant we don’t fill them. We encourage people to take voluntary exit mechanisms. We are looking at the attrition rate. The number of people who retire or die in service will be about 2 000 annually.”
The shortfall means soldiers are being deployed for longer on foreign missions to cut down on stand-by shifts at home bases.
David Maynier, Democratic Alliance MP and defence portfolio committee member, said the Department of Defence was spending more than half of its budget of about R43 billion on personnel-related costs.
“The army alone has a R13.8 billion budget, of which R9.5 billion went to pay soldiers and staff. Less than one percent went to payment for capital assets such as vehicles.”
Maynier said ideally about 40% of a budget should be spent on pay and benefits and the rest split equally between operations and capital acquisitions.
“The defence force needs to downsize to reduce expenditure on personnel so that it can properly fund operations and acquisitions.”
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said the cost-cutting proposals would be “catastrophic” for a defence force already in a “catatonic state”.
“If they are implemented, the SANDF will suffer severe capability losses.
“Critical acquisitions, such as those of heavy-lift aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft – the latter dating back to World War II – are already years behind deadline.”
Heitman said every arm of the defence force was in crisis.
“There are not enough planes, pilots, vessels, sailors, soldiers and vehicles.
“Equipment is ageing … troops are overstretched … it is a complete catastrophe.”
He said retrenchments might sound like a good idea but “there is hardly anyone left to retrench”.
“To operate optimally, doing its currently required work, including peacekeeping deployments and border protection, we need an additional 20 000 troops.
He said the air force’s transport capabilities were “a disaster”.
“Just look at what happened in the Central African Republic, where we had to rely on a chartered aircraft to get equipment to trapped troops – which was delivered too late.
“To some, it’s a joke. To those operating some of this equipment, it’s a life-threatening situation.”
Pikkie Greeff, Sandu general secretary, said: “The proposals make the 2014 Defence Review appear as a worthless a piece of paper.
“It’s the same as the health minister saying there’s no money, so let’s close hospitals.”