Source: Business Day
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: The Times
Analyst says last week’s resignation of two top officials was entirely predictable after years of underfunding and the resultant loss of skilled personnel
The meltdown in the Department of Defence with last week’s resignation of two top officials was entirely predictable after years of underfunding and the resultant loss of skilled personnel, particularly in the air force, a defence analyst said yesterday.
The resignations on Friday of the civilian secretary for defence, Mpumi Mpofu, and air force chief Carlo Gagiano have triggered speculation that Ms Mpofu had fallen foul of the generals in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for insisting on proper procurement procedures and that Gen Gagiano had simply had enough of years of underfunding.
The Cape Times reported that Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had refused to accept Gen Gagiano’s letter, while the SABC yesterday quoted the department as saying Ms Sisulu was considering his resignation.
It has been suggested Ms Sisulu had accepted Ms Mpofu’s resignation over delays in the procurement of two VIP transport aircraft, after incidents with flights carrying both President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe .
Other reports suggested the real reason for Ms Mpofu’s departure was that she had earned the ire of the generals for spotting flaws in the contracts for the VIP aircraft.
Further reports suggested it might also be connected to her husband’s appearance as counsel for African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema in his disciplinary hearings.
Gen Gagiano, who is in hospital receiving treatment for stress, has for years struggled to keep his aircraft flying — including VIP flights, missions to supply peacekeeping operations and training flights — when there was not enough money for fuel or maintenance.
A prominent defence analyst, who declined to be named, said the pressure associated with Ms Mpofu battling to get the supply chain management and financial processes right, and Gen Gagiano’s battle to keep his air force flying, had to come to a head at some stage.
He said the departure of both would be a blow to the SANDF, particularly at a time when a special defence review committee had been established to report on a future structure for the defence force .
Local defence specialist and Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent Helmoed Heitman agreed.
« It is deeply unfortunate at this time, particularly in the defence secretariat, which has been dysfunctional for some time. Defence not only needs money but also stability, » Mr Heitman said.
Last week’s events also triggered reports that there were plans to buy two new luxury airliners for the use of Mr Zuma and Mr Motlanthe.
Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier said it was « an outrageous extravagance » for Mr Zuma and Mr Motlanthe to « have dedicated long-range business jets, at the cost of R1,6bn , operated for their exclusive use by the South African Air Force (SAAF) ».
The new business jets would be in addition to Inkwazi — the Boeing Business Jet used by the president, Mr Maynier said.
« I have, in the past, requested hearings on the SAAF’s Squadron 21, which provides transport to VIPs. However, Parliament has … preferred to turn a blind eye to the chaos and possible corruption relating to VIP flights provided by the SAAF. »
He said he would write to Jerome Maake, chairman of the joint standing committee on defence, to schedule a hearing with Ms Sisulu, « to provide a full … briefing ».
By Wyndham Hartley