That the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is at last going it alone when it comes to infrastructure and facilities was made evident in last month’s national budget.
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told the National Assembly that R951.8 million of the more than R44 billion allocated to the Department of Defence and Military Veterans would go to operationalising staff for the Defence Works Formation. This, sadly, is not an additional allocation but a transfer of funds from the office accommodation sub-section of the administration programme to the Department of Defence (DoD) general support programme.
Priorities are listed as being the refurbishment of military bases at Bethlehem, Bloemspruit, Eerste Rivier and Grahamstown as well as refurbishment of air force and army headquarters in Pretoria.
Also on the to-do list for the works formation is demolishing unserviceable infrastructure in Thaba Tshwane, at a projected cost of R18.3 million, and at the Military Academy in Saldanha.
The unhappy relationship between the Department of Defence and the government’s landlord, the Department of Public Works, goes back more than five years and was first made public by then Public works Minister, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde in December 2010. After a visit to the Doornkop and Wonderboom military bases she said the DoD was “an important, but unhappy, client” and indicated steps would be taken to rectify the poor condition of these two bases and others.
Just over a year ago, members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans called on the bases, one south of Johannesburg and one north of Pretoria. They found buildings still in a state of disrepair as well as squatters in some of the neglected facilities.
One who has long been unhappy about the way military facilities and infrastructure is being neglected by Public Works, currently under the stewardship of Minister Thulas Nxesi, is SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke. He reinstated the Army’s Works Regiment while he was chief of the landward arm of the SANDF. He saw the regiment stepping in to do the work that Public Works apparently couldn’t get round to. In the first two years of its re-establishment the regiment built a military hospice at Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, and finished extensive refurbishing of a military mess in Thaba Tshwane.
It was at Shoke’s insistence that the regiment was upgraded to a Works Formation in the 2012/13 financial year to serve the entire SANDF and this year’s budget is the first indication of it being an asset rather than just a name in the Army’s formation lists.
While he did not mention numbers, the Finance Minister indicated the DoD, and hence the SANDF, would see a growth in personnel numbers to 81 108 in 2017/18. This would come from growth in the capability of the Defence Works Formation and from military skills development volunteers taken in by the full-time component of the SANDF.