SA would be defenceless if attacked, expert warns as defence minister admits SANDF 'unsustainable'

24th July 2023 By: News24Wire

 SA would be defenceless if attacked, expert warns as defence minister admits SANDF 'unsustainable'

Defence Minister Thandi Modise has admitted the defence force is becoming more and more unsustainable, while an expert believes if a military super power were to attack, South Africans would be defenceless.

Modise’s admission comes against the backdrop of severe budget cuts which has led to a weakened South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Responding to a written parliamentary question from Economic Freedom Fighters's Washington Mafanya, Modise said reviving the SANDF required a comprehensive approach that encompassed various aspects, including leadership, funding, training, and strategic planning.

Mafanya had asked Modise whether she intended to resign in light of the failure to revive the SANDF and make way for new leadership that will understand the 2015 defence review.

“The South African Defence Review 2015 is, and remains, the national policy on defence. The Defence Review 2015 remains largely valid and appropriate, even though it was predicated on a steady-stream improvement in defence allocation, agreed to by Cabinet at that time, but which did not materialise,” Modise said

“The defence force is becoming progressively more unsustainable in terms of the declining defence baseline allocation and we have now reached the point where the Republic must decide on the kind of defence force it wants and what it can afford."

According to Modise, it is within the context of a constrained fiscal environment that a review and analysis of the South African Defence Review 2015, will be required by 31 March 2024.

This is to provide a realistic and sustainable future-orientated defence value-proposition, cognisant of current fiscal realities, that delivers against the constitutional mandate of defence, South Africa’s national interests and the government’s priorities and risk appetite.

Defence expert Helmoed Heitman believes the country’s defence systems are virtually gone.

"If any big player came to attack us, we would not be able to do anything. The only reason we are not in trouble is because no one is attacking us. In the state of our navy, we cannot patrol our waters and we can’t prevent smuggling," he said.

Hietman added, “The army does not have enough troops to go everywhere. It’s got troops in Mozambique, in the DRC, plus they do work on the border. Then every now and then they get called out to do work locally. They just don’t have enough bodies to do the work."

Heitman said if there were more serious threats, the army would have issues with equipment.

“The defence force has no money to maintain its equipment. So [much] of it simply does not work. Almost all defence forces use drones, but we don’t have a system to counter attack drones and we don’t have much anti-aircraft capability,” he said.

In May, Modise tabled her department’s budget and warned of a looming budget shortfall of R3-billion.

For the 2022-23 financial year, the defence department was allocated R49.1-billion.

This was increased by R2.5-billion through the adjustment budget, bringing the total to R51.6-billion.

However, when the financial year closed on 31 March, the unaudited actual expenditure was R54.6-billion, R3-billion over budget, Modise revealed.

Modise said her department is focused on the five military priorities.

These include:

President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed 2 700 SANDF members to assist the police in protecting Eskom power stations, under Operation Prosper, from 17 March 2023 to 17 April 2023. Subsequently, he deployed 800 soldiers from 17 April 2023 to 17 October 2023 for the same purpose.

In 2019, Ramaphosa deployed the SANDF to help the police in Cape Town's gang-ridden areas, in 2020 to help with the enforcement of the Covid-19 lockdown, and in July 2021 to quell the unrest engulfing KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.

Modise said she intended to bring in all stakeholders together to participate in work sessions, which will lead to engagements with the two parliamentary committees in the next four months.

“We will discuss the draft defence and national security policy concept as well as the future military capstone concept,” she said.