SONA slated by defence watchers

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Military analysts and defence watchers maintain President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) was very much a dud when it came to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

With the exception of one sentence Zuma, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces, did not make a single reference to the work currently being done by South African military airmen, medics, sailors and soldiers.

He referred only to continental involvement in peacekeeping and peace support operations when he said: “South Africa will continue supporting Africa’s peace efforts through mediation, troop contributions for peacekeeping and by providing material and financial assistance”.

The latest round of financial assistance was made public by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in Addis Ababa last month. She told an AU donor conference on Mail South Africa would contribute in the region of R210 million for humanitarian aid and “capacitation of the police force” in the strife-torn West African country.

South Africa has also committed itself to a 400 strong deployment of SANDF personnel to the troubled Central African Republic this year. The country also has military elements deployed in the DRC and South Sudan.

FF+ defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald said it appeared Zuma was keen on appearing to be the “Big Daddy” when it came to peace and security on the continent.
“What he conveniently forgets, which he shouldn’t as Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, is he has an obligation to the men and women in uniform who are deployed on peacekeeping and peace support missions.
“Apart from their welfare while they are out of the country he must make provision for proper training to enable them to do their work properly,” he said picking out the specific aspects of flying and musketry training which are “sadly lacking”.

Groenewald also believes more calls will be made on South Africa to assist in peace and human security interventions continentally.
“This, along with proper training, costs money. So he has to make funds available for training and equipment if South Africa’s efforts to bring about stable and secure conditions are to have an impact.”

Even more forthright was defence analyst Helmut Romer-Heitman.
“Taking the Presidential words on supporting peace efforts through troop contributions for peacekeeping and providing material and financial assistance, I can only add: ‘Not on the current budget, or at least for much longer’.”

He termed the Presidential omission of the SANDF “extremely disappointing”.
“The SANDF is the organisation tasked with safeguarding our borders and waters and with assisting other African countries and which is doing an outstanding job despite being under strength for the responsibilities assigned to it and grossly underfunded.
“It is even more disappointing in the light of the recent CAR deployment, given that the decision to deploy showed the President’s appreciation of strategic demands and the efficiency with which it was carried out the continued competence of the Defence Force – despite the embarrassment of the economic power of Africa having to charter aircraft to deploy just one company,” he said.



Heitman added he would have expected the Commander-in-Chief “at the very least” to have had the courtesy and decency to express the nation’s gratitude to military personnel and their families, who are putting up with disrupted lives, and in some cases risking their lives in foreign deployments and antique aircraft in the interests of South Africa.
“One would also have expected the President to finally announce steps to either wind down South Africa’s foreign military commitments or to expand the force to a commensurate strength and to begin a serious programme of re-equipment.”