South Africa’s army is out of money and in serious decline

South Africa’s Department of Defence (DoD) has again raised concerns about a lack of funding which has led to the continued deterioration of its abilities over the last few years.

In a presentation to parliament on Wednesday (2 September), the DoD said that it requires an average Human Resources strength (HR) strength of 77,000.

To assure a more sustainable defence capability, an average HR strength of 75,000 will be maintained during FY2020/21, supplemented by a Reserve Force.

This will result in a projected budget shortfall of R3.07 billion for 2020/21, it said. The Department of Defence’s actual strength as at 30 June 2020 was 73,595 – well below the planned requirements.

In a May presentation, the DoD said the defence force is in a ‘critical state of decline’ which is characterised by force imbalance, unaffordability of its main operating systems, and an inability to meet current standing defence commitments.

Left unchecked and at present funding levels, this decline will severely compromise and further fragment South Africa’s defence capability, it said.

Chief among these concerns are consistent budget cuts as well as the capping of the compensation of employees (CoE) ceiling below the force’s existing strength. This has led to a direct decline in historic actual strength, it said.

The DoD has also raised continuous concerns around the army’s training, technology and equipment – leading opposition MPs to call for a full restructure.

The May report shows that there has been a decline in the ability to maintain and sustain military processes and activities especially pertaining to military-specific commodities and equipment. Notably, stock levels are inadequate to support current defence commitments.

The SANDF faces equipment obsolescence and most of the army’s vehicles and other so-called prime mission equipment (PME) are ageing with very slim prospects for modernisation.

The department said that maintenance backlog will continue with consequent loss of industry expertise and PME unless funding is made available. It warned that a lack of maintenance may also lead to a collapse in PME.

Cut to the bone

In an opinion column for Business Day, independent defence analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman said that SANDF has no muscle because funds have been ‘cut to the bone’.

“The army lacks the infantry units to handle and sustain any serious contingency beyond its deployment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and along the border; has good but mostly obsolete equipment from 1980-1990 and some from the 1970s and even 1950s, and lacks key capabilities such as modern air defence systems,” he said.

Heitman said that air force also lacks much-needed weapons on much of its aircraft, lacks maritime surveillance capability, and does not have the radars to cover air borders effectively.

He said that the navy also lacks significant force and that a number of its ships are too small to be useful.  Heitman said that the primary problem is that the government does not seem to know what level of defence capability it wants.

These concerns have been directly echoed by minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who said that the future of the SANDF is squarely in government’s hands.

“The prevention of the SANDF capabilities from declining further is entirely dependent on the budget allocation of the defence force, which has been decreasing at an alarming rate over the years with a negative impact of the entire capabilities,” she said in a Q&A and the end of 2019.

“The Defence Review 2015 has been developed with a plan to arrest the decline of the SANDF but unfortunately no funding has been received to attend to the declining capabilities of the SANDF.”

Mapisa-Nqakula added that the years-long decline of the SANDF meant that it was becoming increasingly difficult to protect the country.

“The defence has become progressively unsustainable in terms of declining defence allocations and have reached a point where the republic must decide on the kind of Defence Force it wants and can afford,” she said.


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South Africa’s army is out of money and in serious decline