African commitments and additional border duties combined with a lack of resources have impacted negatively on the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF’s) capabilities.

This is the word from Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, commenting on the recent report from the Defence Review Committee, recommends a comprehensive defence policy blueprint for the next 20 years.

She points out that the 1998 Defence Review assumed that the SANDF would only deploy one battalion for external operations in Africa. But, by 2006, as many as four were deployed in various parts of the continent. There are currently two battalions in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Darfur region of Sudan.

“Commitments in Africa far exceeded what was anticipated in the aftermath of the advent of democracy in 1994. In the SADC region, various treaties and protocols on defence and security cooperation require the SANDF to commit troops and assets. At home the Defence Force has taken over the patrol of land borders from the police, committing four battalions,” Mapisa-Nqakula says.

“As a key economic player in the continent, and that having set an enviable example of peaceful conflict resolution, South Africa is expected to play a leading role in the stabilisation of the continent,” she adds. “Most importantly, however, it is also in our national interest to have a stable continent, with accruing benefits for a shared food security, development, security and the building of economic relations with the rest of the continent.

“Commitments made in the past 16 years have resulted in a mismatch between what is expected from the Defence Force and resources allocated to it. This is a crucial point highlighted in the current Defence Review Committee’s report.”

Mapisa-Nqakula points out that resource allocation has also had a negative impact, with low budget allocations causing the SANDF to over-stretch and decline.

“The report notes that the longer the current state of affairs is perpetuated,  the greater the effort and cost will be, to reverse the decline and restore the capabilities required to safeguard South Africa’s borders, protect its maritime trade routes, defend the country against aggression and conduct peace missions.”

The minister says urgent action must be taken to: capacitate and equip the SANDF; address the maintenance and reorganisation of its infrastructure footprint; rejuvenate and expand its human resource component; and fund the operational deployments of the SANDF.

“These and other shortcomings must be addressed to prevent the steady decline of the SANDF and the potentially disastrous consequences that could follow.” Mapisa-Nqakula says.

“The question crucially posed by the Defence Review is, what is it that we want the SANDF to do at home, in the region and the rest of the continent? Once that question is definitively answered, adequate resources must be allocated to enable it to execute its mandate with the requisite effectiveness and efficiency.”

Cabinet is clear that the SANDF’s defence responsibilities cannot be scaled down, so Mapisa-Nqakula says the resources allocated to it need to increase.

The Defence Review outlines the SANDF’s four primary responsibilities as:

* To defend and protect South Africa;

* To safeguard its borders and infrastructure;

* To promote peace and security in Africa; and

* To perform developmental and other tasks assigned to it.

On the basis of this assumption the Review recommends that the body strives to achieve five milestones which are:

* To arrest the decline through focussed interventions;

* To rebalance the force for future growth;

* To ensure that the defence capacity meets current needs.;

* To develop capacity to meet future strategic challenges on the continent; and

* To build the strength to deal with a war should the need arise.

To be able to achieve this, the Defence Review recommends that the SANDF enhances:

* The rapid reaction capability;

* The border-protection capability;

* The peace-keeping and a peace-enforcement capability;

* The medium and a heavy combat capability;

* The maritime security capability;

* The cyber-defence capability; and

* The disaster management capability.

The review also recommends a number of “quick wins” that can be accomplished at minimal cost. “These relate mainly to the re-structuring of the three arms of service – Army, Navy and Air Force; improvements at our medical institutions; commitments to urgent acquisitions; and management of the Naval Dockyard. We have already started addressing some of these issues,” Mapisa-Nqakula says.