Speaking at the annual media breakfast at the Army College in Thaba Tshwane yesterday, Lieutenant-General Lindile Yam lambasted what he described as the “failure of this nation” to deliver what the soldiers needed to do their jobs.
The problem of the budget was compounded by the need not just to acquire new equipment, but also the funds to be able to train with it.
“It seems that some people just don’t get it,” Yam said. “We have been restricted by the Treasury despite the fact that people have spoken on the Defence Review and despite the Defence Review being accepted as policy.
“We soldiers don’t talk on our behalf, we let others talk on our behalf. Now I’m talking because it is us who will be criticised when there are body bags (with dead soldiers inside).”
The army, said Yam, was the workhorse of the entire SANDF, undertaking perilous missions both in Africa and internally, creating the necessary conditions for stability and economic prosperity.
The army should not just be seen as a cost centre, but also as a vital part of the country’s industry, creating new technology and intellectual property.
“There wouldn’t be people in space or satellites if it hadn’t been for the military,” he said.
Yam railed about being forced to cut the number of soldiers, saying it took years to train competent soldiers who could go into life-threatening environments and survive, especially in the case of officers and non-commissioned officers. “But our people don’t get this, they think we are a branch of the Department of Education or of Arts and Culture.
“It takes 10 years to build a credible military machine to fend off the threats to a nation. We must be allowed to do a scientific analysis (and get) a funding tool that will allow us to do our job.”
The funding shortfall had impacted drastically on Project Hoofyster, the army’s critical initiative to replace the ageing Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle fleet. His commanders, however, were working with manufacturers Denel to resolve this, he said.
The army had also worked hard within the financial strictures to ensure that no soldiers were deployed without the necessary training, equipment or support, despite the attendant risks of operations in the DR Congo, in Sudan and along South Africa’s land borders.
The cost-cutting measures had been so well implemented that he was incensed by the fire at the vehicle depot in Wallmanns- thal outside Pretoria, in which 83 old unserviceable military vehicles had been destroyed during a scheduled bush fire prevention exercise that went awry last week.
A board of investigation had been set up, assisted by the military police, who were investigating to find out what had happened and who was to blame. Even though the vehicles might have been classified as being beyond use, they were still assets that could have been used for parts.
“If someone did nonsense,” said Yam, “there will be blood on the ground, I promise. But I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of the board.”
Responding to a question from the floor, Yam announced that the army had finished its study into the naming of reserve force units and presented its report to the minister of defence. Of the 66 units under review, 40 would have their names changed to reflect South Africa’s indigenous history, celebrating chiefs and liberation heroes.