South Africa’s army is on life support

 ·24 May 2022

Defence and Military Veterans minister, Thandi Modise, says the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will be hard-pressed to respond to critical events due to a severe shortage of resources.

The decline in the performance of the South African economy has placed significant pressure on government and households, and it is becoming difficult to adequately meet all competing needs, the minister said.

Presenting her departmental budget vote on Tuesday (24 May), Modise said that these issues mean there is fertile ground for more instability in the country. The minister warned that these issues could be further exacerbated by a lack of funding and resources for the SANDF.

“The historical downward trend in the defence allocation has not abated. It is likely to continue to the detriment of the SANDF and the demise of the defence industry.

“Honourable members will remember that we have a dire shortage of critical equipment currently, not to speak of future disasters and continuous climate change events, for example tents, water purification and distribution systems are critically low. Serviceable airframes and flying hours are also in a critical state.

“I must inform this house that the SANDF will be hard-pressed to respond to critical events in other provinces should the need arise. I state this with a very heavy heart – we are willing, but we lack resources. Unless there is a significant intervention – the cupboard will remain bare,” she said.

The minister said that defence planning has become primarily a budget-driven affair as opposed to a mandate-driven one. “This means that our ability to deliver on our constitutional mandate ultimately compromises the successful conducting of military strategic missions in a sustainable manner.”

Modise added that the underfunding and lack of resources allows the SANDF only to provide ‘adequate operational performance’ where spending is focused on immediate operational measures.

The minister said over recent years, the SANDF has been called on to support civil interventions to ensure the delivery of basic services to the citizens of the country, and this is over and above the force’s contribution to African peace missions.

“We have assisted the North West province with health services, the Department of Water and Sanitation with the Vaal River clean-up project, the National Disaster Management Centre called on the SANDF to assist during the Covid-19 pandemic and we are still involved in the KwaZulu-Natal flood relief.

“The deployments speak to our responsibilities and there is no way we cannot be at the centre of saving lives.”

She said the deployments also come at a great cost to the equipment and funding of the SANDF. “There is often little or no reimbursement delivered. This puts the SANDF under great pressure.”

Widening dichotomy

“There can be no doubt that there is a widening dichotomy between that which the SANDF is expected to achieve and the resources that are provided to achieve these expectations. SANDF is being spread so thin.

“Our inability to maintain, repair and overhaul our ageing fleets of combat equipment simply adds to our already dire block – obsolescence of our prime mission equipment.”

She added that South Africa has an unaffordable legacy of defence systems and defence capabilities.

“We have a bloated facilities footprint and we also have the urgent need to rejuvenate the SANDF with young and healthy soldiers. We need to develop a view on what level of defence South Africa needs, and what it can afford to maintain at a sustainable level.”

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