Cape Town - Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Tuesday said the reduction of over R15 billion in the medium term expenditure framework had placed the department in a very difficult position.
“We must inform this House of the negative impact our declining allocation has had and will continue to have on the Department of Defence in general – our military capabilities in particular and our ability to meet our operational responsibilities assigned to us as well as our international obligations,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
She made the statement when she delivered her budget vote speech that was marked by yet another budget reduction for a third year in row.
Mapisa-Nqakula said their capital budget had effectively been reduced to a trickle and the operating budget was under extreme pressure.
“Under these conditions, we are finding it very difficult to improve the serviceability of our prime mission equipment.”
She also said while they were fully aware of the fiscal challenges that South Africa had, the reduction to their allocation had had a devastating impact not only on the SA National Defence Force, but also on the defence industry and defence-related industry.
Mapisa-Nqakula told the MPs that she was at pains to remind Parliament that she had raised the budget reduction in her budget vote speech in 2019.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we now face the reality that if we do not intervene in a decisive manner, we will lose our state-owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of our six defence systems.
“This not only compromises our ability to maintain our current equipment in service, but also fundamentally impacts our longer-term ability to remain relevant and ready to conduct effective operations in the future.”
The minister said in the event this happened, they could find themselves reliant on foreign powers for their main equipment and that would come at great strategic expense.
“The knock-on effect of this has had dire consequences for the contribution that the defence industry makes to science and technology development, manufacturing, export earnings, education and artisan training, jobs for our people and the economy in general.”
Mapisa-Nqakula listed five directives she had issued in an attempt to salvage the situation.
This included the department to effect cost savings measures in the personnel budget to include, among others, what she termed “voluntary separation of members wishing to do so”.
ANC MP Cyril Xaba said the budget was presented under difficult global economic conditions.
“The constrained fiscal environment has forced managers to do more with less and look for measures to effect savings to fund new projects,” Xaba said.
He also said despite the budget cuts, the SANDF remained committed to the protection of South Africa’s territorial integrity and South African people.
DA MP Kobus Marais said the unilateral budget cuts had stripped the SANDF of essential procurement and maintenance capacity.
“This will have a detrimental effect on both SANDF and the defence industry stakeholders,” Marais said.
He, however, said political will did not exist with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mapisa-Nqakula to bring a lasting solution to restructure and reprioritise the SANDF as a smaller and responsive defence force.
The IFP’s Mthokozisi Nxumalo said any savings should be reprioritised to operational expenses, and that additional funding and resources be found for the borders urgently.
The ACDP’s Steve Swart said his party was deeply concerned by the reduction in the defence budget.
He said the concerns were expressed every year but little was done as every year the situation got worse while billions were looted and stolen elsewhere.
“If SAA and other bankrupt SOEs can receive bailouts, the SANDF can and must get additional funds, given the critical role it plays. Decisive action is required,” Swart said.