Defence and democracy are good bedfellows




The South African Aerospace Maritime Defence Industries Association (AMD) has as one of its primary objectives the representation of the entire South African defence industry. This it does particularly in matters relating to trade and of regulatory nature. The organisation also acts as an official spokesperson for the industry, hence our response to the Mail & Guardian’s editorial “Arms against democracy” dated November 8 2019.

The M&G needs to acknowledge the strides made by, and the leadership of, the government and the defence industry in the field of arms control as enabler of the protection of human rights and as an integral part of the international arms trade.

In the past 25 years of the new South African arms export history, this country and its industry have never once been found wanting or to have violated any United Nations regulations in relation to human rights or to have traded in a manner that was not compliant and thus detrimental to human rights and regional stability.

This is adequate proof that the South African arms control regime and systems are not only functional but also that they meet the highest international and moral standards.

Our leadership is soundly established, with South Africa not only being the only country in the world to have denuclearised but also in that the official leading the (global) Arms Trade Treaty organisation in Geneva is the former head of the South African arms control secretariat at the Directorate of Conventional Arms Control. This clearly shows the world’s confidence in the South African government, as well as our legislative and regulatory prowess.

In principle the defence industry values and respects the commitment and responsibilities of the government in relation to compliance and the enforcement of related obligations emanating from international treaties and national legislation.

Furthermore, the defence industry not only voluntarily complies with such measures but actually sees compliance as a competitive advantage that establishes it as a reputable and responsible industry.

It is for this reason that the defence industry, with Denel as an integral part thereof, shall always act as an interlocutor between the regulatory regime and its clients by ensuring that the latter are not only informed of compliance issues in line with South African legislation but are also assisted to comply optimally.

The AMD, with respect, thus disagrees with your editorial’s assertion that Denel is merely a “rebranded” apartheid-era entity. The South African National Defence Force and many other state institutions and state-owned entities have the same historical origin of being inherited from the previous apartheid regime, and you’d then have them viewed in the same light.

The reality is that the democratic government has transformed all these institutions and organisations in line with our constitutionally defined principles. The value of Denel and the arms industry as contributors to South Africa’s gross domestic product, jobs and tax revenues needs to be acknowledged.

Defence and democracy are not strange bedfellows; they are mutually reinforcing and interdependent and should be managed and treated as such. Like other democratic countries, South Africa should be allowed to, and strive to have, a credible and well-resourced defence capability along with the complimentary defence industrial base, which has significant economic multipliers, technological spin-offs and direct cross-sectoral enhancers that enable tourism, rail safety, mine safety and even disaster management, as well as an innate potential to propel the country into the fourth industrial revolution.

The time has come for all South Africans — including the media — to cease with the senseless demonisation of the defence community and to accept that there is no anomaly in a democratic South Africa having a defence capability (both in the form of the armed forces and the associated industry) and to rather embrace and harness it to the best benefit of our country and people.

Simphiwe Hamilton is executive director of AMD

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Simphiwe Hamilton
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