Defence and Military Veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has again warned of the severe financial strain facing her department which she says will impact South Africa’s defensive abilities.
Presenting her annual budget to parliament on Tuesday (18 May), Mapisa-Nqakula that the further reduction of over R15 billion over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) has put her department in a ‘very difficult position’.
“We must inform this house of the negative impact our declining allocation has had and will continue to have on the Department of Defence in general, our military capabilities in particular, and our ability to meet our operational responsibilities assigned to us as well as our international obligations.
“Our capital budget has effectively been reduced to a trickle and the operating budget is under extreme pressure. Under these conditions, we are finding it very difficult to improve the serviceability of our prime mission equipment,” she said.
While acknowledging the general fiscal problems facing South Africa, Mapisa-Nqakula said that the R15 billion reduction will have a devastating impact, not only on the defence force but also on the wider defence industry, and many smaller businesses in the supply chain.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we now face the reality that if we do not intervene in a decisive manner, we will lose our state-owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of our defence systems.
“This not only compromises our ability to maintain our current equipment in service, but also fundamentally impacts our longer-term ability to remain relevant and ready to conduct effective operations in the future.”
Should this happen, South Africa will become more reliant on foreign powers for its main equipment and this will come at great strategic expense, she said.
“The knock-on effect of this has had dire consequences for the contribution that the defence industry makes to science and technology development, manufacturing, export earnings, education and artisan training, jobs for our people and the economy in general.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said that South Africa’s defence capabilities are ‘under extreme stress’ and its ability to equip and train forces appropriately has become progressively more difficult.
Despite this, the current threat manifestations actually require more ‘boots on the ground’ which is contrary to the imposed funding ceiling on personnel, she said.
“In addition, the ability to maintain main equipment for operations has declined to the point where we need to ask if it is in fact viable to continue to throw resources at them.
“This coupled to the demise of the defence industry and in particular Denel has placed us in a very precarious position.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said that South Africa’s maritime defence is in the same situation.
“While we commend the efforts of Armscor to turnaround the dockyard, we are nonetheless finding it difficult to maintain our fleet against the float, sail and fight concept of combat readiness.”
In the light of the fiscal constraints, the South African National Defence Force will have to rebalance its military capabilities towards a future force that has a wide range of utility, said Mapisa-Nqakula.
To address these issues, the minister said her department is looking at a new policy position that looks at a new ‘affordable level of defence ambition’, cognisant of the department’s funding challenges and the emerging real and tangible threats to the national security of South Africa.
Mapisa-Nqakula said that she has also requested a review the defence systems and capabilities that will have to be decommissioned and the risk estimate attached thereto in the interests of achieving defence efficiency.
Other directives include:
- Specific cost savings in the personnel budget;
- Measures are to be put in place that will ensure the rejuvenation of the SANDF , while accommodating the voluntary separation of members wishing to do so;
- Thee command and staff structure of the defence force will have to change if it is to ensure improved efficiency and effectiveness in the future;
- Armscor has been asked to help develop a pragmatic recommendation on how to modernise the SANDF under the current fiscal and industry constraints
“These interventions will allow us to ensure that the SANDF is able to carry on with its mandate of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.