The SANDF is in deep trouble – David Maynier

DA shadow minister asks whether the defence force is still able to defend South Africa


"Let us begin a proper and open debate about the future of the defence force, military veterans and the defence industry in South Africa"

1. Introduction

I would like to begin by congratulating the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, as well as the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thabang Makwetla, on their appointment to the Cabinet.

I wish you both well as you tackle the many challenges facing the defence force, military veterans and the defence industry.

I also hope that over the next five years we will work well together, and that we will tolerate not only different questions, but also different answers, always bearing in mind that we are putting the country first.

2. "I hate bullies..."

Since this is my maiden speech in parliament, I would like to make some brief remarks about my politics.

My political philosophy is perhaps best summed up by a quote taken from Helen Suzman which reads:

"I hate bullies. I stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights. They are indispensible elements in a democratic society and well worth fighting for."

I hope that I will have the courage to speak up for people who are hungry; to speak up for people who feel unsafe; to speak up for people who do not have shelter; and to speak up for people who are sick.

But above all I hope I will have the courage to speak truth to power in this Parliament.

3. A professional defence force

I was once a member of the defence force - serving as a submarine officer and diver - in the South African Navy, and for that reason I am committed to working for a defence force that:-

  • recognises the supremacy of the constitution;
  • is under civilian control and accountable to parliament;
  • comprises of a professional full-time defence force backed up by a reserve force; and
  • is disciplined, properly equipped, properly trained and properly funded.

4. A cover up?

We are here today to debate the appropriation of R32 024.4 billion rand for defence and military veterans in the 2009/2010 financial year.

The central question before us is this: what effect will the billions of rands spent on defence have on the combat readiness of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF)?

And the short answer to that question is: we don't know because the Department of Defence (DoD) won't tell us.

Or perhaps more accurately, the DoD will tell us, but only on condition that we don't tell you.

The minister appears to be doing her level best to cover up the state of combat readiness of the SANDF.

We were told that the DoD would not provide a briefing on the state of combat readiness of the defence force because the minister had not been briefed.

But now we are told the DoD will not provide a full and open briefing because it may compromise national security.

We can only wish for the kind of courage shown by British Army head General Sir Richard Dannatt who recently declared:

"I will stand up for what is right in the Army. Honesty is what it is about. The truth will out. We have got to speak the truth. Leaking and spinning, at the end of the day, is not helpful.

We therefore appeal to the minister to review the DoD's approach to the question of a full and open briefing on the combat readiness of the defence force.

This is a hard problem.

But rather than take the easy road and hide behind the defence force's favourite fig leaf - "national security" - let us take the hard road and grapple with finding a proper and responsible balance between secrecy and transparency.

And let us do this because in the words of one distinguished legal scholar:

"A society that demonstrates no concern for this problem has ceased, or is ceasing, to be democratic".

5. Proper oversight?

The minister, deputy-minister, the Chief of the South African National Defence Force and the service chiefs could not find time to brief the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans.

This amounted, in my view, to "false start" for the DoD with the fourth democratic Parliament.

Acting Secretary of Defence and Military Veterans, Tsepe Motumi, did however brief the committee, but was only able to introduce a draft Strategic Business Plan for the Department of Defence for the Financial Year 2009/2010.

He was in an awkward position and was only able to make one-and-a-half arguments in the briefing - namely:-

  • that a task team would be set up on military veterans, and because he was anxious to avoid preempting the task teams recommendations, no information would be available on military veterans; and (and here comes the half-argument)
  • that the defence force is underfunded, diminishing its capacity to ... well to share that information may compromise national security.

And what does all this mean?

We are expected to support a R32 024 billion rand appropriation. But we are not allowed to know to what effect the money is spent. How then are we supposed to properly exercise our oversight role of the defence force?

Well, we are not sure.

6. Deep trouble?

We may not know all the details about the state of combat readiness of the defence force. What we do know however is that the defence force is in deep trouble.

We have soldiers without vehicles; we have ships without sailors; we have planes without pilots; and we have military hospitals without doctors.

And the result?

We have soldiers in barracks, not in the field; we have ships alongside, not at sea; and we have aircraft in hangers, not in the air.

We have an army that is overstretched; a navy which is understretched; and an airforce with nothing to stretch.

But don't listen to me.

Listen to Brigadier-General George Kruys (Ret.) who was recently quoted saying that:

"When making policy speeches politicians showed no knowledge of the real state of the army...The malfunctioning of army vehicles during peacekeeping deployments in Africa is a common problem".

The situation is now apparently so bad that we must ask the question: is the defence force in fact able to fulfil its constitutional mandate and defend and protect the Republic of South Africa?

We have our doubts?

7. Underfunded or underled?

And how did this situation arise?

The DoD would have us believe that the problem is that the defence force is routinely underfunded.

But the real problem with the defence force is not that it is underfunded. The real problem with the defence force is that it is underled.

The outcome of the last defence review, carried out more than ten years ago, was deeply flawed.

It was corrupted by vested interests in the defence force, defence industry and the ruling party, resulting in a force design that was simply not affordable.

And so, hard decisions had to be made.

But this did not happen.

Instead, the defence force has been let down by politicians - most importantly a string of caretaker defence ministers - who for years dodged making hard decisions about the future of the SANDF.

And the result - strategic drift and confusion?

8. Protecting our borders

This is nowhere better illustrated than the confusion which surrounds the deployment of the defence force to protect our borders.

We have an average of 3024 soldiers deployed per day abroad, but only an average of 575 soldiers deployed per day at home.

We appear to be more committed to keeping the peace abroad, than keeping the peace at home.

The borders are simply not secure, making us all vulnerable to transnational crime.

Our 4862 kilometre landward border is protected by 684 members of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

That is the equivalent of approximately one police officer deployed every seven kilometres on our landward borders.

And our 2798 kilometre maritime border is protected by a SAPS Armada comprising of two 20 meter patrol vessels and nine rubber ducks.

But perhaps most shockingly, the SAPS plans to spend more in this financial year on "VIP Protection Services" (R380 004 000) than it does on "Borderline Security" (R224 969 000).

We spend more on bodyguards than on borderline security.

We urge the minister therefore to review the defence forces military strategic objectives and consider, together with her colleagues in the security cluster, permanently deploying the defence force to protect the borders in cooperation with the SAPS.

9. Conclusion

There is evidently a defence policy void which is wrapped in an even bigger national security policy void.

Over the past few years the DoD has produced a deluge of "visioning documents": we have the "Defence Strategy"; "Defence Update"; "Reserve Force Strategy"; "South African Army Vision 2020"; "Human Resource Strategy 2010"; all of which are apparently being morphed into  "Defence Strategy 2025".

But none of these documents have ever seen the light of day, and in my view they amount to an attempt at a defence review "by stealth" - a defence review by the DoD for the DoD behind closed doors.

The last South African White Paper on Defence was approved by Cabinet in 1996 - more than 10 years ago - and represented the defence policy of the Government of National Unity under former President Nelson Mandela.

What we need is a new defence review, which is conducted in an open and inclusive manner, and which culminates in a new White Paper on Defence, Military Veterans and the Defence Industry.

We therefore challenge the minister to table a Green Paper on Defence, Military Veterans and the Defence Industry in this Parliament.

And then let us begin a proper and open debate about the future of the defence force, military veterans and the defence industry in South Africa.

I thank you.

Issued by the Democratic Alliance

[To read Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's intemperate reply to Maynier click here. Her budget vote speech can be accessed here.]

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter