Defence devises plan to ‘rescue’ SANDF

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise says the department is embarking on a multi-medium term strategic planning process that seeks “rescue” the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). 

Modise, who was speaking during the debate on the Defence and Military Veterans Budget Vote, said this strategy would be actioned under the ministerial directive and guidance of the Chief of the SANDF.

According to the Minister, a scientific evaluation of the SANDF painted a bleak picture of the force‘s diminishing capabilities, largely because of persistent budget cuts.

“The ravages of underfunding and unserviceable capabilities against escalating tasks has had a devastating effect,” the Minister said on Tuesday.

In the plan, Modise said, the SANDF calls for comprehensive border safeguarding optimisation; the establishment of a rapid reaction capability; the establishment of a maintenance, repair and overhaul capability to maintain its legacy systems, and revisiting the personal equipment and overall needs of the soldier.

“We need to be cognisant of the uniqueness of the SANDF. Universal military practices must inform the structuring of the SANDF, including structuring into combat formations with a complementary command and staff system at the military strategic, operational and tactical levels.

“I have directed that work begin to reconfigure, reposition and reorganise the department to ensure coherent command and control, and appropriate governance and accountability.”

In addition, Modise said vacant senior posts in the Defence Secretariat must be filled by the end of the 2023/24 financial year.

“This is important for the enhancement of civil control. The posts of Secretary for Defence and Chief Financial Officer are in the process of being filled.” 

Budget considerations

Due to the underfunding of the Compensation of Employees (COE) allocation, the department will most likely incur unauthorised expenditure of approximately R3 billion in the 2022/23 financial year.

Modise said the department received a total budget allocation of R51.1 billion for the 2023/24 financial year, a net decrease of about R500 million from the previous adjusted budget. Of the R51.1 billion, she said R30.6 billion has been set as the ceiling for the COE.

“I am in constant engagement with the Acting Secretary for Defence, the Chief of the SANDF and the department to find lasting solutions, including concrete actions.”

Revitalising the force

The Minister said she has instructed the Chief of the SANDF to rejuvenate the force.

This will require an urgent review of practices and criteria used by the SANDF to recruit, select, appoint, promote and place its members.

She also wants the appointment and promotion of competent, dynamic and enthusiastic soldiers to leadership and critical posts to be prioritised.

According to the Minister, the department must emphasise the training of future military leaders in financial and procurement management practices, and accelerate the recruitment of appropriate and highly skilled people into specialised environments in the SANDF.

“I also instructed the Secretary for Defence to review and shorten the process whereby public service employees are recruited and employed.”

While there are challenges, Modise said the SANDF continues to execute border safeguarding in five provinces in an endeavour to safeguard and maintain the integrity of the country’s borderline. 

She said maritime coastal patrols were conducted during the past financial year as well.

Modise told Parliament that various SANDF force structure elements remain on continuous standby as a contingency to deter possible acts of violence and criminality and deter possible threats to critical infrastructure across the country.

“The SANDF is on continuous standby to render humanitarian aid, disaster relief and assistance of all sorts in all provinces. Examples were the KwaZulu-Natal floods and the adverse weather in Coffee Bay.”

The SANDF continues to participate in various regional security initiatives, such as the United Nations Peace Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are also leading the fighting element of the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique. –