Only 38% of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) facilities are in acceptable condition as are only half the living quarters of soldiers, according to a report tabled in parliament.
Secretary for Defence Sam Gulube on Wednesday told members of Parliament’s defence portfolio defence committee that the Department of Public Works (DPW) had let the SANDF down. “The chief of the SANDF said no… don’t go there [to the committee] and be diplomatic. Tell the committee, in no uncertain terms, how much our soldiers have been let down by the department of public works,” Sapa quotes Gulube as saying.
According to a document shown to the committee, just 38% of SANDF facilities are in acceptable condition with 50% of living quarters in fair condition. Four percent were considered hazardous and 2% in such poor condition they will have to be demolished.
Military bases at Doornkop and Lenz are in particularly bad shape. The conditions at both bases, home to the SA Army’s 21 Infantry Battalion, are unsuitable for human habitation. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans visited the bases and saw buildings in disrepair; a shortage of housing; a shortage of vehicles; squatters having moved in to some dilapidated buildings; and poor discipline, including soldiers not reporting for duty. The Doornkop and Lenz bases were earmarked for maintenance three years ago but little has changed since then.
Gulube said that the situation meant that the SANDF was unable to effectively deliver on its constitutional mandate, Business Day reports, and that the poor state of SANDF facilities could impact the morale of soldiers.
Gulube said there was a repair and maintenance backlog of between R8 and R13 billion, and that maintenance underspending on capital projects by the Department of Public Works amounted to R1.6 billion over the past three financial years.
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence minister David Maynier said the Department of Defence had “both hands tied behind its back by the monumentally incompetent Department of Public Works” and called for the DPW to be kicked out of the Department of Defence.
SANDF chief General Solly Shoke spearheaded the re-establishment of the Army’s Works Regiment so that at least some maintenance and refurbishment of military facilities could be done in-house. The regiment has subsequently grown into a Works Formation, another indicator the military wants to be master of its own fate when it comes to facilities maintenance. Being responsible for its own maintenance could save the SANDF R1 billion a year, according to General Justice Nkonyane.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has also raised the issue of infrastructure. “Over the past 20 years we have not paid enough attention to the servicing and improving the state of our facilities,” she said during a media briefing last month. “The general state of our hospitals, barracks, and all our bases leave a lot to be desired. The recent establishment of the Defence Works Formation is a development that should assist us in this regard, but there are too many issues that need to be addressed if this unit is to function effectively.”