South Africa’s army is a complete mess: report

South Africa’s army is not only underfunded and lacking critical skills and infrastructure, but a leaked audit report has found that its administration is also a complete mess – outlining wasteful spending and illegal activity that is not being dealt with or properly investigated.

The report, seen by the Sunday Times, outlines actions – or lack thereof – taken on the Auditor General of South Africa’s (AGSA) findings on the Department of Defence.

It found that leadership did not review the department’s compliance with supply chain management laws, nor did it take any of the recommended actions in the majority of investigations into the department’s failures.

Some of the key issues raised include:

  • In 90 of 122 investigations into fraud, no recommended actions were taken;
  • 833 cases of alleged misconduct, fraud and infringements have still not been completed;
  • Irregular expenditure of R6.1 billion has not been investigated;
  • Fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R8.5 billion has not been investigated;
  • 171 employees were found to be illegally doing business with the department and other departments with contracts worth over R30 million;
  • Record keeping is in such a poor state that contracts worth R208 million cannot even be investigated.

The report was sent to department heads by the AGSA for comment, and is expected to be published at a later date, the Sunday Times said.

The insights into the complete disregard for oversight and consequence management at the department outline the ongoing crisis that has wreaked havoc on South Africa’s defence force.

South Africa’s military budget has suffered cuts for years, with several ministers in the portfolio warning that this is having a real-world effect on the army’s ability to defend the country. However, from the AGSA’s findings, it is apparent that the money the army does get is being severely mismanaged.

Defence and military veterans minister, Thandi Modise presented her departmental budget vote in May 2022, where she described the situation within the department as dire – expressing alarm at the number of qualified audits the department was getting.

She warned, however, that continued budget cuts put the country at risk, especially if more violent protests broke out.

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

Modise said that these issues mean there is fertile ground for more instability in the country, adding 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.

Former defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned in 2021 that South Africa is at risk of losing its state-owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of its defence systems.

“The ability to maintain main equipment for operations has declined to the point where we need to ask if it is in fact viable to continue to throw resources at them,” she said at the time.

“This coupled with the demise of the defence industry, and in particular Denel, has placed us in a very precarious position.”

Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) and the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV) have previously highlighted issues plaguing the sector, including an ageing air force fleet and dilapidated infrastructure and equipment.


Read: South Africa’s army is on life support

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South Africa’s army is a complete mess: report