The work and importance of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), both internally and continentally, was the thrust of Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s address during the Parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation Address.
Probably the most encouraging to the larger defence community in South Africa was her statement that the Defence Review would be finalised by the end of the current financial year.
The Review process was led by former Defence Minister Roelf Meyer at the behest of Mapisa-Nqakula’s predecessor Lindiwe Sisulu and was originally due to be tabled in Parliament last October.
“It positions the SANDF as a key national asset that can, without detriment to its primary functions, carry out directed actions to support national development,” she said in alluding to the role the military can play in the National Development Plan (NDP).
“The Review acknowledges the inherent potential of the SANDF to support national development can be realised almost automatically as a direct result of its normal peacetime activities.”
She also stressed the importance of the SANDF as an instrument of government’s foreign policy to support peace and stability in Africa.
“Situations of war and instability, in any part of the continent, are detrimental to effective development and as a result may pose direct or indirect threats to South Africa’s own national interest,” she said in support of troop deployments to the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DRC.
As far as Mali was concerned Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa would not be contributing troops to peacekeeping efforts there. The country has pledged US$ 25 million (about ZAR 220 million) in humanitarian aid to the continent’s latest hotspot.
“Troops have been pledged by the ECOWAS region,” she told MPs.
On the CAR deployment Mapisa-Nqakula told the House the additional “up to 400 soldiers” sent there formed part of the extension of an existing memorandum of understanding.
“The MOU was extended for another five years and the additional South African soldiers were sent as protectors, should the need arise, for the 26 trainers there and to ensure South African assets – ammunition and vehicles – do not fall into the wrong hands.”
South Africa’s commitment to the MONUSCO deployment in the DRC currently stands at 1 250 troops and she envisages no more SANDF personnel will be deployed to that country.
“We have pledged to contribute a brigade to the intervention force proposed for the eastern DRC. This will be the brigade currently deployed in eastern DRC under MONUSCO,” she said.
This intervention force is part of a strategy developed by SADC and ICGLR (International conference on the Great Lakes Region) Defence Force Chiefs.
As far as the use of SANDF assets to support SA Police Service crime fighting efforts was concerned Mapisa-Nqakula said this should only happen in “exceptional circumstances”.
“It is important to resist the temptation to easily call on the SANDF to conduct normal policing work as this could easily gravitate the country into a military state reminiscent of the perpetual state of emergency.
“As experienced in the past this kind of action has the potential to erode public confidence and trust in the SANDF, a situation that can have dire consequences for the stability of the country,” she said.