Days after SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, informed SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, the landward force was combat ready, a different scenario came from a leading defence analyst and a local defence company.
Helmoed Heitman, a permanent part of the wider South African defence sector who has put in the hard yards under successive administrations before and post democracy, is reported by Johannesburg daily The Citizen as saying the national defence force is “sadly on the same path as Eskom, SAA and railways.” He told reporter Brian Sokutu “there’s nothing much the minister (of defence, Thandi Modise) or soldiers can do about it”.
“Sooner or later we will pay the price,” he warned.
“Fighting insurgencies, terrorism, piracy and smuggling of wildlife in Africa can win us strategic allies, vital for our economy. To do this, the SANDF needs newer equipment and a budget,” Heitman said, adding South Africa could no longer be compared to “countries that take defence seriously”.
“We [South Africa] have good equipment but lack the funds to maintain it – let alone modernise or upgrade it – with most now non-operational,” he is reported as saying, further pointing out “major gaps” in maritime patrol and airlift.
On personnel he told The Citizen South Africa has “many outstanding officers and a lot more who are simply good, but there are still some who are dangerously incompetent but somehow stay and are even promoted”.
“Bottom line: we have mostly good people but are no longer fully combat effective. No fault of the soldiers; there is simply a limit to what you can do without money.”
Heitman said the local defence industry was “a leader in a few sectors and world-class in more”.
“Much of that has now been lost. Foreign-owned companies in SA are properly funded, managed and are still world-class. Denel is close to dying and that will affect others.
“A key problem is that the SANDF lacks funds to buy or even upgrade equipment – leading to very few local orders. That makes foreign forces reluctant to buy from us.
“Added to this are delays and weird decisions by the NCACC (National Conventional Arms Control Committee) hampering exports, with the prognosis being poor,” said Heitman.
“No-one in Cabinet, other than the defence ministers understands how a defence force works or what it needs.”
Not as outspoken, but still wary, is Daniel du Plessis, Milkor Marketing and Communications Director. He told the Johannesburg daily the SANDF had capabilities as regards training, adhering to doctrines and protocols, “but budgetary constraints lead to visible weaknesses with few exercises that can be done”.
This, according to him, limits the SANDF, making it “time to revisit the budget and see how the SANDF can defend South Africa’s sovereignty”.
“Because there are sound doctrines and protocols, I believe it is a matter that is fixable. As the private defence industry, we don’t only provide military equipment abroad, we also keep up to date with modern technologies worldwide, exposing SANDF leadership and the entire defence cluster to new, available technologies,” Du Plessis said.
“The SANDF is doing peacekeeping operations in some parts of Africa – vital for the stability of the continent. We need to take a close look at which equipment can be implemented, how well training can be adapted to new technologies and how the budget can be structured.
“The Americans, who spend nearly R15 trillion, perfected the model, maintaining and acquiring new technologies,” he pointed out to the newspaper.