Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota has denied that a blazing row over the restructuring of the Department of Defence has erupted between South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief General Siphiwe Nyanda, on the one side, and Lekota and his director general January Masilela, on the other.
According to a Mail & Guardian report, the row stems from LekotaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s endorsement of MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposal to strip Nyanda of some of his powers in favour of Masilela, who heads the civilian section of the defence department, also known as the Secretariat for Defence.
Masilela compiled a report outlining his proposals after he was requested to do so at a council of defence meeting in June. Lekota had provisionally approved MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals at the meeting. The report was submitted to Lekota in July.
Lekota endorsed the proposals six days later — despite NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s protestation that some of the proposals were ”untenable and unlawful”.
Nyanda said Lekota should seek President Thabo MbekiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s input before endorsing MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals. Alternatively, he suggested that Lekota set up a joint Secretariat-SANDF project team to analyse fully the implications of proposals and devise implementation options.
The proposals included, among other things, a recommendation that Lekota transfer a number of key SANDF divisions from NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s command to the secretariat. The divisions include human resource management, military logistic, command and management information, and military legal services.
Nyanda charges that LekotaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision would hamper him in discharging many of his statutory responsibilities — and would diminish the SANDFÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capacity to defend the country.
In his report to Lekota, Masilela insists, however, that the affected SANDF divisions need to account to him to ensure internal control efficiency, compliance monitoring, evaluation, advice and reporting.
The move is the first major step by Masilela, formerly Mpumalanga minister for agriculture, since his appointment in 1999, to ensure tighter civilian control over the military. Soon after 1994 the defence force was split in two: a civilian component under the secretary for defence, and the military itself, under the chief of the SANDF.
The civilian component is responsible for formulating policy and oversight of the military. The military is mainly responsible for defending the country against military aggression.
What is not clear, however, is who — Masilela or Nyanda — is supposed to be responsible for the overall administration of the SANDF.
Masilela believes that administrative components, such as human resources and logistic systems, in the SANDF should report to him to ensure accountability. Nyanda, however, insists that this would break his chain of command as these divisions form part of what he calls ”the cornerstone principles of modern warfare”.
In his report, Masilela said in support of his position: ”The current arrangements, whereby especially the human resource and logistic systems are fragmented and managed by administrative figures [in the SANDF] not only compromise command-and-control but also the principles of systems management.
”Numerous internal and external audit reports and Scopa [ParliamentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s standing committee on public accounts] queries have suggested that the current organisational arrangements, whereby the secretary for defence and the chief of the SANDF share dual responsibility in terms of the execution of its resource systems … are not sufficient to ensure full accountability by the secretary for defence…”
Nyanda disagrees. On July 16 he wrote a strongly worded letter to the defence minister to raise his concerns. Yet Lekota endorsed MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals the next day.
The opening paragraph of NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s letter reads: ”I respectfully appeal at the outset that you [Lekota] acknowledge that as its chief I am the commander of the SANDF. Within my authority to exercise full command is a requirement for me to give effect to administrative control utilising high-level staff officers to assist me. This is one of the cardinal aspects of control as defined in the conventional military.”
The targeted divisions, according to NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s letter, provided him, as the defence chief, with administrative support on issues such as personnel, services support and command information and communication systems. If his control of these divisions ended, the letter said, he would be unable to do his job properly.
”According to the Defence Act the chief of defence is responsible for the direct administration and management of the SANDF,” wrote Nyanda. ”If I cede these incumbents with their responsibility to the secretary for defence, I do not comply with the Act. It also renders me incapable of exercising full command over these delegated outputs, and further depletes the SANDF of crucial functions and capabilities.”
Nyanda said MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals would ”result in the departure from tenets contained in the Constitution, White Paper of Defence, The Defence Review and the Defence Act”. ”The new structure impedes most of my statutory responsibilities” and ”will result in the interruption of my chain of command”, he said.
”In short, any interruption in my chain of command, especially with the provision of military capabilities and the administrative control thereof, will render the SANDF incapable or at the least constantly ineffective and inefficient,” the letter reads.
Nyanda is particularly troubled by the transfer of the logistic and the military legal services divisions. ”The transfer of the Chief Logistics … with some of its staff will deplete me of the logistic staff function at headquarter level (military and doctrine) and the material means I require for the conduct of military operations.
”No military force can be sustained without fully embedded logistic support — logistic support to operations being one of the cornerstone principles of modern warfare,” he wrote.
Of the military legal services division, Nyanda said: ”The transfer of the [division] will leave me devoid of the only command instrument that I have to enforce discipline, maintain order and ensure justice in the SANDF following prescribed military judicial process. The constitutionality of the current dispensation was tested rigorously and is now stable.”
He continued: ”Transfer of this responsibility will affect due process and invalidate command authority.”
Nyanda suggested that Lekota ”urgently and consciously seek the counsel of the president” before he could approve the proposals. ”I resolutely believe that any decision taken by you [Lekota] that ostensibly alters the command of the SANDF … requires the full and final ratification and promulgation by the commander-in-chief [Mbeki].”
It appears that Lekota shrugged off NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s concerns. In his endorsement letter, Lekota explained his decision: ”Refer to the Council of Defence minutes of 27 June 2003, the effect on the above recommendations in terms of the overall defence department structures, processes and systems must be continuously reviewed and adopted where necessary so as to ensure the best service delivery from all concerned.”
Defence department sources this week said Lekota endorsed MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals as he is in favour of a ”super-structure” within the secretariat. Lekota has been in favour of a slimmed-down defence force ever since he took over as minister.
MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals did not only relate to the transfer of divisions from NyandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s command, but also included the creation of a number of new posts within the secretariat, which include the position of the chief operations officer. The chief operations officer, according to MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposals, would handle internal control systems as he, Masilela, would be required to be ”out of the office a great deal of time”.
Nyanda indicated he supported expansion of the secretariat, but says in his letter that this should not be achieved ”by the emasculation” of the SANDF.
Defence department sources said Nyanda has insisted that the matter be brought before Mbeki, as he believed that Masilela and Lekota would not give him a fair hearing.
The Mail & GuardianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s repeated efforts to get comment from Lekota and Nyanda during the week did not bear any fruit, as they were both on business abroad. MasilelaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s representative said only Lekota could comment on the matter.
However, on Friday Lekota said there was no foundation for allegations of a stand-off between him and Nyanda.
”I am the minister,” he told reporters during a visit to the University of Pretoria.
”The chief [Nyanda] is accountable to me, in terms of the Constitution.”
Lekota said he was not a soldier.
”He gives commands to soldiers. I do not give commands to soldiers. There is no competition between us.”