Defence reserve forces saddled with dilapidated infrastructure

Infrastructure hosting South Africa’s defence reserve forces is “dilapidated”, a concerning state of affairs as the region grapples with extremist insurgency in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, where a number of the reserves are deployed. 

The reserve system “is dying not only in relation to the age cohort, but also in relation to its infrastructure”, parliament’s joint standing committee on defence heard from Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla during a briefing on Thursday evening. 

Almost every base at which reserves are being accommodated is “in a state of complete dereliction, it is dilapidated”, Makwetla said.

“Our reserve system consists of the remnants of what is left of the legacy during the bush-war years of this country … After introducing the new force in 1994 there was never a thought-through plan on how the new reserves are going to be organised and how they are going to be resourced in the absence of a conscription system,” he told the legislators.

Earlier, defence reserves director brigadier general Zoleka Niyabo-Mana had told the same committee that, although it was possible to have the 40% in reserves that was “propagated for in the defence review, at least we should be assisted to maintain the 16% to 17% of the reserves that we have” in light of the ongoing fight against insurgents in Mozambique.  

Niyabo-Mana bemoaned the fact that, despite the nearby threat, “we have been reducing the number of reserve force members”.

Since 2019, the number of reserves has declined from 21 588 to the current 19 811. Over the past two years, fewer than 16 000 reserves have been called up to service. 

Continued budget cuts are some of the multiple challenges contributing to the declining numbers, Niyabo-Mana told parliament. The army’s reserves expected a further reduction of funds next month when the budget set aside for the specific number of days that the reserves worked would be cut from R2.6-million to R1.9-million, she added.

The Mail & Guardian reported in December that thousands of reserve-force soldiers had responded to the South African National Defence Force call to report for duty during the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, but hundreds of them did not receive any payment.

Niyabo-Mana also told the parliament committee that the case of a local businessman arrested for allegedly funding insurgents in Mozambique had been withdrawn because of a lack of evidence.

Last week the USs sanctioned four South African-based alleged Isis and Isis-Mozambique (Isis-M) financial facilitators, who allegedly played key roles in funnelling funds from the Isis hierarchy to branches across African.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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