Cape Town - Questions have been raised on how the embattled SANDF can afford to spend R23 million on the deployment of 1320 soldiers to the Cape Flats.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula this week sounded the alarm on the defence force’s ability to safeguard the country’s porous borders amid severe budget cuts.
But as the army supports SAPS in stabilising gang-affected areas, analysts warn these budgetary constraints would put the security of the country, as well as peace-keeping missions on the continent, in jeopardy.
Mapisa-Nqakula delivered her Budget speech at the National Assembly on Wednesday, where her department was allocated R50.51 billion. However, the minister outlined how over the past five years it had seen a reduction of around R22bn.
“The defence force is becoming progressively more unsustainable... we have reached the point where the Republic must decide on the kind of defence force it wants and can afford,” she said.
“This situation has become increasingly worse. Strategically, we are forced to transition from being mandate-driven to being funding-driven. Defence can only perform to the extent that it is resourced and funded. The significant reduction in the defence allocation has resulted in an ever-decreasing ability to execute ordered defence commitments.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said that last year she reported a medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) baseline reduction of R18.2bn. The letter of allocation for the 2020 MTEF further demanded an additional R4.7bn reduction, the majority of which lay in the compensation of employees.
“This reduction will directly impact on the training, equipment, containment, core capabilities and operational output of the defence force,” she said.
Military analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman said the core of the defence force’s problems was not only budget constraints, but the government’s inability to decide on what it wanted the force to do.
“It says it wants a proper defence force that must do the border and regional peacekeeping, but it is funded just enough to keep the border, so the net result is that there is not enough money to maintain or buy new equipment.
“For example, we do not have an effective maritime patrol aircraft; we are using a 1943 vintage Dakota, which is not a good idea.”
He warned that there were insufficient funds to buy new aircraft or train soldiers.
“Pilots don’t fly enough, don’t get to sea enough, the army doesn’t train enough and that disconnect has been running since the late 1990s.
“In the Defence Review that was approved by Parliament (in 2015), we put in a proposal that we divide the defence budget into four parts, one being routine operating expenses, capital for buying new equipment or major upgrade, another being contingency like in the case of the Mozambique floods, and lastly, the operational employment budget, where if the government says send a battalion to the Congo and the military can say the additional cost of being there is so much, pay that and we will go.”
In her speech, Mapisa-Nqakula noted how even though the National Security Strategy required 22 army sub-units and the support to be deployed to safeguard borders, insufficient funds could not support this.
She stated that the ever-growing threats of terrorism, the challenges of crime in the maritime environment and the uncertainty at state-owned arms company Denel were of huge concern to the department.
Heitman said a focus directed at reducing SANDF’s personnel as a means of cutting back costs would not fix the underlying problems in a force burdened by too many old people in junior ranks, as well as too many generals with no justification for their existence.