South African soldiers are seen during a joint patrol with Central African soldiers in the streets of Bangui in 2013. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
South African soldiers are seen during a joint patrol with Central African soldiers in the streets of Bangui in 2013. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Defence review: Who will keep the peace?

By Dawn Nagar Time of article published Apr 12, 2015

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Government has inadvertently created an overly stretched and underfunded defence force, writes Dawn Nagar.

Cape Town - On March 30, the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town invited Godfrey Ramuhala, deputy director of defence, and Professor Samuel Tshehla, dean of the Military Science Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch, to a dialogue on the progress made and public challenges faced in the implementation plans for the 2014 National Defence Review.

It has been almost four years since an independent defence committee was appointed by the then-minister of defence, Lindiwe Sisulu, in July 2011. The defence review was ratified by the government in March last year.

At the public dialogue, Ramuhala and Tshehla, provided a brief overview and said South Africa’s commitments had not matched its defence realities. They noted that this had had consequences that were due to the deficiencies in training, maintenance, and budget allocations.

The 1998 National Defence Review had made provision for only one battalion to be deployed externally for a year. However, for the past decade and a half (2000-2015), the SANDF has deployed about 5 000 personnel to UN-led peacekeeping missions, to regional peacekeeping missions in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sudan’s Darfur region, as well as a contingent to the Central African Republic (CAR).

The panel highlighted that with the ever-changing global environment South Africa must be able to deal effectively with external threats such as cyber warfare, piracy, transborder crime, and maritime security. Such threats warrant an effective response and a defence force able to provide security for the state.

South Africa has also confronted domestic challenges, such as in Gauteng, the country’s most densely populated province and its economic hub. Gauteng is dependent on Lesotho’s water: a vital resource that requires adequate military protection.

With South Africa joining the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1994, there were increased expectations for its military role and regional expectations were high. While these expectations have intensified, South Africa’s role has not matched them, and budget shortfalls have hampered military training and maintenance.

South Africa has contributed to peacekeeping missions, with a battalion in the DRC, another in Darfur, and a frigate in the Mozambique Channel. South Africa has provided assistance to the SADC and its Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security Co-operation, as well as to the AU’s peacekeeping efforts.

While the SANDF has been taking more responsibility in safeguarding the country’s borders, the government has inadvertently created an overly stretched and underfunded defence force, affected by the lack of training and maintenance operations. Such inadequacies have placed the country’s peacekeeping operations at risk.

The mammoth task confronting the 2014 National Defence Review has been outlined in a 30-year implementation plan that will be subject to periodic reviews.

The defence review is focused strongly on strategic matters and to a lesser extent on operational and tactical discourse. There is a danger that it may not become a government-driven policy, but a policy-driven defence review.

Defence planning must be undertaken within a strategic military planning process involving Parliament, the cabinet, and the defence force, and must match the government’s commitments to realities on the ground.

For instance, South Africa requires six battalions for deployment, but has only two. Similarly, with regard to personnel and available capital, a 40:30 ratio for operationalisation is recommended, which means 66 000 personnel and 66 operational units.

The SANDF’s inadequate capabilities and the mismatch between operations and resources have had severe consequences. Such inadequacies have been seen in the lack of aircraft lift capabilities to support soldiers in the CAR when they came under attack from Seleka rebels in Bangui in 2013. Thirteen soldiers died.

The 2014 Defence Review has proposed a fundamental shift with a 30-year defence trajectory, and four core milestones. First has been arresting the decline” in SANDF by this year – meaning dealing with the declining problems in its operations and providing a budget of 1.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – R44 billion. Second, “rebalancing” the SANDF by 2018, with a budget increasing to 1.6 percent of GDP.

The third milestone is “capacitating” the SANDF by 2023, with its budget increasing to 2 percent of GDP, which would enable it to handle current missions. Fourth, to “develop the capability” so that by 2028 the SANDF would be able to respond to new challenges, with its budget increasing to 2.4 percent of GDP.

A fifth milestone was that the SANDF be able to deal with situations of war. In the medium term, this would require a budget increase to 3.3 percent of GDP.

The budget must be met with a strategic military planning process that takes into account capability and methodology of defence security planning.

Also needed will be improvements in skills and education, authority, responsibility and command levels between operational units and levels of education.

During the public dialogue in Cape Town last month, the panel emphasised the importance of providing 400 graduates a year with professional military training and the importance of tertiary education, alongside the creation of a divisional system that emphasised leadership.

The debate also raised other concerns, such as the prevalence of HIV/Aids in the military (an estimated 23 percent), the SANDF’s sustainability and filling the gap left by officers taking early retirement.

* Nagar is a researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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