After years of atrophy, the South African National Defence Force’s reserves are making a comeback.
”The bottom line is the Reserve is not in bad shape,” SANDF Chief of Defence Reserves, Major General Roy Andersen said earlier this month.
While still smaller than authorised establishment, the reserves of the four Services were increasingly stepping up to the plate to support the regular component of the defence force, Andersen added.
In the last financial year 7897 Army, 601 Air Force, 298 naval and 369 military health care reserves were deployed. Of these 37% were deployed for between 61 and 180 days and 14% for over that period.
The SA Army has so far deployed 16 infantry companies and four engineer troops on peacekeeping missions and the Army Signal Formation`s entirely-Reserve staffed Field Post Office has done sterling work in their support.
The SANDF`s future force design also gives the Reserve greater prominence, with 45% of its total force to be drawn from that quarter.
But that will require a greater slice of the budget. Treasury this year allocated some R50 million to the Reserves over the next three years for training, but various sources at a recent Reserve summit said ideally this should be R120 million.
Other challenges for the Reserve includes a deficient feeder system, ambivalent employer support and changes to the Defence Act that would call Reserves to arms when required rather than just in the face of – an unlikely – foreign invasion. This would allow better use of the Reserve as backfill for the regular component and to support peace missions.
Deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla also noted that the Reserve “is an integral part of the defence establishment, it is not a secondary branch of the defence force. It is part of the defence force design.”
It is difficult to determine what percentage of this year`s R32 billion defence budget is being spent on the Reserve as the defence budget vote does not provide any breakdown. Other than some R11 million allocated to “strategic” direction at SANDF level, none of the Service or division budgets include a line-item for the Reserve.