Defence Minister Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s speech on Wednesday could have been a rambling mess about the broad dealings of the defence force in South Africa and how good a job they have done etc. Instead the minister was pretty much to the point: The now-2014 Defence Review is coming into legislation and it had better be financed. With this in mind there are two key aspects of the speech’s emphasis on the 2014 DR that I want to discuss.
ONE: The Money Must Come
Although not stating it outright, the minister effectively laid out the case for immediate funding of the DR’s strategic path, which would focus on halting the rot that poor financing has spread throughout the SANDF. In doing so, capabilities and equipment can be repaired, replaced, upgraded and new systems purchased and trained with. Well and good, and this part of her speech was heavily influenced, I suspect, by her advisors, who have been pushing the “stop the rot!” slogan hard for the past several years. This is a no-brainer, since the operating of SAMIL trucks dating to the years before Woodstock cannot be defended.
Fielding a battalion in the DRC and a UNAMID peacekeeping force, while patrolling for non-existent pirates off Mozambique’s coast has stretched the SANDF’s budget beyond sustainable levels, and the cracks are already beginning to show. Thus, an increased budget for the SANDF must follow the DR’s approval in parliament, or else it’s little more than a shopping list for a budget that cannot accommodate its needs.
The major problem with this approach, however, is the lack of a plan B if the treasury does not play ball. That the SANDF cannot continue in its current underfunded state is undisputed, but there is zero consideration, at least on paper, for what kind of defence force should be structured and formed if the financing levels remain the same. This is a very real possibility, and one that could lead to the defence force simply degrading until it resembles any other poorly-developed military force, fielding obsolete equipment and possessing minimal training.
If ministry planners had a realistic Plan B up their sleeves this could be avoided. A small-yet-proficient force design – similar in scope perhaps to certain Scandinavian militaries – is certainly possible, but would require a major reconceptualisation of just what the South African way of war should be. At the moment everything hinges on getting more money, and that is by no means a foregone conclusion in the current South African fiscus.
TWO: The Speech Can Be Viewed With Optimism
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was retained by president Zuma after the elections for a reason, and the 2014 DR may likely be it. In keeping her on, the message being sent by the department of defence, and SA government as a whole, points towards the desire for a defence force that may will be revitalising itself. This is good news for the soldiers serving at the moment, for local and international defence industry partners waiting for some sort of sign that there will be money coming, and for the country’s regional parters, for whom the SANDF forms a core component of Southern African security.
By staying on, and by focusing her speech on the 2014 DR, there is cause to hope for a shift in defence spending from infrastructural triage to growth and regeneration. Trucks, aircraft and a plethora of other equipment requirements can all begin the lengthy process of procurement – this time with a bit more transparency – and will not only help arrest further degradation, but provide a boost in the short-term to soldiers currently serving abroad.
The 2013 Battle of Bangui highlighted the cost, in blood, of failing to provide adequate support for soldiers serving in very dangerous places. For this to be fixed, more money must come, and the minister’s speech appeared to give nothing but green lights for it.