One who does not share SA Air Force Chief (SAAF) Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang’s cautious optimism about the future is FF+ defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald.
He maintains the more than R70 billion spent on acquiring new equipment for the SAAF and the SA Navy was “a waste of taxpayers’ money” illustrating his point with a reply to a Parliamentary question posed in 2008.
Then Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said in the three years running up to 2008, the SAAF lost 91 pilots and 822 technicians.
Turning to the present where it appears 19 Agusta A-109 helicopter pilots could lose their rating on the aircraft due to insufficient flying hours, as well as the mothballing of 12 out of 26 Gripens, Groenewald said he first warned government 11 years ago that “decisive attention” was needed to be given to the budget of the SA National Defence Force and especially the SAAF.
This he followed up in 2008, indicating the lack of attention to the financial needs of particularly the SAAF was resulting in a situation where defence ministers were “now reaping what had been sowed”.
“Again nothing was done and we now sit with this crisis where expensive equipment has become useless. Government wittingly allowed this and is therefore fully responsible,” he said.
Another who has picked up on the warning lights is military observer and author, Darren Olivier.
He rightly points out there is no need for a Minister of Defence to actually have been a soldier “provided he or she is smart enough to know when to defer to the experts in the Department of Defence and the SANDF”.
As an example he names immediate past Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
“She, for all her faults, demanded the Defence Review be done properly and kept on campaigning for the defence budget to be increased.”
The timeline set by Sisulu for Roelf Meyer and the members of his Defence Review committee stipulated the Review had to be ready for tabling in Parliament last October. Her move to the Ministry of Public Service and Administration last June saw Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula take over the Ministerial hot seat and there are indications, but no certainties, that the Defence Review will make it to Parliament sometime next month. If this doesn’t happen it will be tabled before Parliament is dissolved ahead of next year’s elections, a Parliamentary statement issued in May said.
Olivier readily admits the situation the SANDF finds itself in is complex. He maintains criticism of those deserving it, both inside and outside the SANDF, is necessary.
“On the other hand there are people in uniform and in the Department who are doing a good job. Sadly, the majority of South Africans don’t give a damn how hard they try to make it work.”