Cut the bloat and trim the force

The South African National Defence Force is in a mess. That is the clear conclusion of the draft defence review commissioned by Lindiwe Sisulu and headed by Roelf Meyer.

Despite the spending binge of the 1999 arms deal, much of the soldiers’ kit is outdated, skills levels are woeful and discipline is weak. The reasons for this are complex and familiar — a difficult merger between liberation struggle guerrillas and the apartheid military machine, shifting spending priorities, political uncertainty about how powerful the defence force should be — and what it is for.

What Meyer’s report makes clear is that if South Africa is serious about its security needs and its status as a continental power, something is going to have to be done and urgently. The question is: What?

The answer cannot simply be to pour in more cash. Newer armoured cars and cleverer drones will not solve the problems of skills and leadership that the military faces, nor will they answer the question of what it is for.

We need an honest, realistic and public discussion to answer that question better. We would suggest that South Africa needs a relatively small, highly flexible force focused on the realities of our security situation — protection of shipping and fisheries, counterterrorism, regional peacekeeping and perhaps the integrity of land borders. Some ability to project force in keeping with South Africa’s multilateral obligations no doubt makes sense.


This need not require massive aggregate spending increases.

The many servicemen and women who are unsuited to the task and who bloat payrolls should be pensioned off. Wasteful subsidies to Denel should be reprioritised to buy the best equipment for our needs at the best price. And the traditional capacity of well-run militaries to build skills should be placed at the heart of the programme.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Some are more equal than others

It’s do what we say, not what we do, as the ANC lays Andrew Mlangeni to rest

Schools have tanks – but no water

The state rapidly put in place a solution for the emergency provision of water, but it has been hampered by the shortage, and cost, of water tankers

Black Lives Matter? Which black lives?

In South Africa, police brutality and violence affect black, working- class lives in particular. We must dismantle this systemic oppression

SA needs to restrain use of force by police

‘Less lethal’ weapons have resulted in deaths and severe injuries, yet there are still no guidelines

Ipid recommends disciplinary action against police who watched Khosa beating

Police watchdog report finds that metro police members did not participate in the assault

Mapisa-Nqakula ‘regrets confusion’ after contradictory statements on Khosa case

The minister’s media statement follows a letter from Khosa’s attorneys that they were considering a perjury charge or a complaint with the Public Protector
Advertising

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday