Earlier this month, South Africans were shocked to find out that problems with two VIP-planes destined to transport the country’s president and deputy-president forced the Air Force to hire civilian aircraft at huge expense to the taxpayer.
This highlighted the dilemma faced by the military due to shrinking defence budgets. South Africa’s defence budget was effectively reduced from 4,5 percent of GDP in 1989 to a low of 1.3 percent in 2011. At the same time, the military is expected to play an increasingly important role in various capacities on the African continent and it cannot carry out these responsibilities if it is not properly funded.
Since the early 2000s operations undertaken by the SANDF, which can be considered as secondary roles, has expanded to a level that has not been provided for in the current Whitepaper of defence or the Constitution. These operations include peace support operations (PSO), border security, and anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique channel. This has placed extreme pressure on already scarce defence resources.
PSO entails classical peacekeeping missions, but might include more complex military operations such as the enforcement of no fly zones and trade embargoes. To conduct operations such as these, a country needs a well-equipped and balanced military structure. For South Africa, conducting PSO in Africa is also in line with South Africa’s foreign policy concerning the protection of human rights and prevention of mass atrocities on the African continent.
During a media briefing by the International Cooperation, Trade and Security Cluster, in September, South African defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, stated that the SANDF currently deploys a total of 2304 military personnel on PSO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan (Darfur), and the Central African Republic.
South Africa also committed itself to provide the majority of specialized capabilities, such as air defence and engineering groups, including one parachute battalion and one infantry battalion, to SADC’s regional African Union (AU) Standby Brigade. The brigade is meant to provide the AU with a rapid deployment capability, which can rapidly react to prevent genocide, and other human right abuses, on the African continent such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Recently South Africa also took up membership of several prestigious international organisations such as IBSA, BRICS, and the UN security counsel. This has placed increased strain on the countries diplomatic and military resources as the countries responsibilities towards the global community increases.
In 2010, the SANDF redeployed back to the country’s borders after it was found that the South African Police Service was not properly prepared or equipped for border patrol operations. Brigadier General Koos Liebenberg of the SANDF stated in July that the SANDF currently deploys 1300 troops on the country’s borders and plans to increase this number to 3630 deployed troops by 2015. Currently, according to South Africa’s Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans, R324.6 million was budgeted for border security operations in 2011.
Operation Corona, which is intended to fight cross border crime and illegal immigration, has achieved several successes and its deployment in the Kruger National Park on the Mozambique border has led to a significant drop in cross border crime and rhino poaching in the park.
Effective maritime security in Southern Africa’s waters is also increasingly coming to the attention of many because of rising incidence of maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean. 80 percent of Southern Africa’s imports and exports are transported by means of the sea. Incidence such as piracy and over fishing threatens not only South Africa’s strategic interests, but also that of the whole SADC region.
In response to acts of piracy in the Mozambique Channel South Africa deployed several naval and air assets to Mozambique’s northern port town of Pemba. Assets include one valour class Frigate, a C47TP maritime patrol aircraft, a SuperLynx maritime surveillance helicopter, and 377 military personnel, according to a letter by South African president Jacob Zuma to South Africa’s parliament in July 2011.
From the above it can be concluded that the role and mission of the SANDF has largely expanded since the SANDF’s first peacekeepers deployed to Uganda in 1999 as part of MONUC. The SANDF is conducting much needed operations that are crucial to the strategic interest of South Africa and the rest of Southern Africa in the maintenance of stability and security. Essential to this is naval operations conducted by the South African Navy that contributes to maritime security in the region and ensuring the save passage of goods through SADC’s maritime zones.
Rightly so, South Africa’s political leadership and citizens expects the SANDF to conduct these missions, but at the same time they expect defence resources to be reduced and redistributed all in the name of badly thought out and naïve demilitarisation policies. It is time to ensure that the SANDF is provided with enough funding and proper equipment as to ensure that they are able to properly prepare for, and execute, their duties on behalf of South Africa’s citizens and the rest of Africa.
By Anton Kruger, Consultant, Peace Missions Programme, ISS Pretoria Office