Fact file: The SA Navy’s mandate

The SA Navy is the youngest of the combat services, and traditionally the smallest. This has in part been a result of the cost of maintaining the fleet but has also been the result of lip-service to the idea of South Africa as guardian of the Cape sea route.

Naval commentators have often pointed out that South Africa is largely an “island economy” that trades by sea. In theory, this gives the country’s harbours and sea lanes strategic importance and – again in principle – necessitates a larger Navy than the government has ever been willing to fund.

The nub of the problem always has been that since World War Two, when German raiders and Nazi as well as Japanese submarines indeed plied our waters, there has been no real threat to the sea lanes.

Indeed, even during the height of apartheid era sanctions and the simultaneous Cold War, the threat could be discounted as no real attempt at blockading South Africa was ever made. No neighbouring state had the shipping or power projection means for such a venture and any Soviet block attempt in support of the Frontline States would likely have encouraged a NATO response.

This is an important point, because even at the height of the Simon’s Town agreement (signed in 1957), when the SA Navy operated two destroyers and four frigates, the service was never meant to be more than an appendix to the Royal Navy.            

What is the mandate of the Navy?
The core business of the SA Navy is fighting at sea[1].
In terms of Chapter 3 of the 1998 Defence Review, this means to:
·         Counter an attack from seaward and on shipping,
·         Provide for interdiction of the maritime battlespace once hostilities have begun,
·         Provide for counteroffensive actions to drive the enemy from own or friendly sea space,
·         Ensure that naval units have the inherent ability to function within the SANDF command and control system, at the required joint levels,
·         Continuously prepare such naval forces to act for the defence of the RSA,
·         Prepare specified naval units to participate in operations other than war, and
·         Maintain effective support capabilities to support all naval forces.     
What is the mission and vision of the SA Navy?
Subject to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and the laws governing the defence of the RSA and departmental direction:
·         the core business of the SA Navy is .. fighting at sea;
·         the mission of the SA Navy is .. to win at sea; and,
·         the vision of the SA Navy is .. to be unchallenged at sea.[2]
“Unchallenged at Sea” means the following to the Navy:
·         Regional reach: the ability to operate and sustain forces throughout the Southern Oceans and Southern African littoral;
·         Balance of force capabilities: the size and shape of the SA Navy must give a coherent military capability across all relevant areas of maritime warfare, together with the ability to operate these balanced forces effectively, thereby giving the Service battle a winning combat capability;
·         Interoperability: the ability to operate jointly or in combination with whatever other forces may be required, whether its sister Services, the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community or other nations or civilian; authorities;
·         Information Superiority: the ability to use information to achieve mission success by increased situational awareness, interoperability and increased speed of information flow, whilst protecting and preserving own information assets
·         Quality: the ability to provide forces which are completely fit for purpose as and when required;
·         Will: the willingness of individuals, units and the command chain to become completely engaged in whatever task, from low intensity peacetime activities to high intensity warfighting, with utter determination to succeed: and,
·         Respect: being an admired yardstick against which similar sized navies throughout the world judge themselves.
What is the role of the SA Navy[3]?
South Africa is a maritime nation, endowed with a double geo-political identity – that is the land and the sea. It is situated at a strategic point along vital sea routes: the confluence of the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Southern Oceans. South Africa`s maritime border extends from the Orange River in the west to Punta do Ouro in the East – a coastline of about 3000 km and along which marine resources are spread.
South Africa`s geostrategic position, maritime trade as well as its marine resources and the need to protect its marine ecology and conservation all carry with them national, regional and international obligations.
Maritime Regional Co-Operation
One of the challenges facing South Africa within the changing strategic environment in the region is the emerging concept of “common security”. As understood by states in the region, this goal is taking shape under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and SADC, particularly the latter`s Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC) with its naval sub-committee, the Standing Maritime Committee (SMC). At the inaugural meeting of the SMC, hosted by the then-Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Robert Simpson-Anderson in Pretoria in July 1995, three cardinal concerns were raised by those present:
·         The vulnerability of the region to potential threat to sea-lines of communication;
·         The protection of the landlocked member states` interests and privileges in the maritime field and,
·         that urgent co-operation should include:
·         Protection of marine resources,
·         The ability to respond to pollution,
·         The need for hydrographic, search and rescue services, and
·         The combating of illegal immigration, drug and arms trafficking.
Assistance Operations
In addition to its primary task, the SA Navy carries out the following:
·         International relief operations,
·         Regional assistance operations, and
·         Assistance to state or provincial authorities
The role of the Navy
The role of the SA Navy is therefore to prepare for and, when so ordered, to conduct:
·         Appropriate naval operations in defence of the Republic of South Africa, its citizens and interests; and
·         Operations other than war in support of other relevant and approved national goals.
The SA Navy`s main tasks include the maintenance, preservation and the provision of naval services in support of other state departments and authorities, where such assistance includes the following:
·         Search and rescue,
·         Protection of maritime resources,
·         Sea transport, and
·         Diplomatic support.
The Need for a Navy
In addition to the above facts, one must also consider the following:
·         Africa is rich in resources.
·         South Africa is vulnerable to naval blockade and the cutting of its sea routes.
·         Marine resources are vulnerable to plundering.
·         According to Germany`s own records, 28 U-Boats operated off the South African coastline during World War II. German and Japanese submarines accounted for a total of 133 merchant ships sunk and 6 damaged. Submarine action also accounted for the Dutch warship HMNS Colombia. Surface raiders sank a total of 20 merchant ships and mines laid by either submarines or surface raiders also accounted for two ships sunk and two damaged.
The SA Navy has been responsible for protecting South Africa`s interests for over three-quarters of a century. Prior to 1922, the Royal Navy (RN) was responsible for the safety of shipping around the Cape with many South Africans serving on a number of RN ships. In today`s increasingly uncertain and competitive world, the SA Navy continues to protect our national interests and responsibilities as well as helping to guard against risks to peace and security.

[1] Briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Defence, March 15, 2005.
[2] SA Navy Mission & Vision, www.navy.mil.za, accessed February 25, 2006.
[3] Role of the SA Navy, SA Navy Fact Sheet, undated, but likely released to the media in 2003.