Publication: Die Burger Issued: Date: 2002-07-15 Reporter: Anastasia de Vries Editor:

‘Boot the Fat Generals'


Publication  Die Burger
Date 2002-07-15
Reporter Anastasia de Vries
Web Link


Cape Town - Someone should have the courage of their convictions and kick out some of the generals of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), because they are too expensive, too fat and too unfit.

This is the opinion of Helmoed-Romer Heitman, a defence consultant, on reports that the SANDF's reserve force and commandos are irrevocably weakened because of a lack of funds.

"Taking such steps won't be enough, but it will be a start. The defence force should also revise its administration, as it is too cumbersome and expensive.

"A lack of money is the biggest stumbling block facing the SANDF. Another problem is that we have too many people who can't be deployed in emergency situations. Someone should have the guts to say what the defence force can do with the funds available."

He says the problem lies not only with the permanent force, but also with generals in the reserve force who are all talk and no show.

Training and retaining must be revamped

"The commandos are relatively okay, but the reserve force is depleted. Most units have virtually no troops, and even if they can recruit new troops, they have no money to train them."

He says a system should be developed to train and retain reservists.

"The reserve force has no conditions of employment. Developing nations spend up to 2% of their gross national product on defence, but in South Africa, it's much less," Heitman says.

He doesn't think downsizing is the answer, because there are already too few troops for the country's internal defence and protection.

"And what about defending the region? Money budgeted for training, should be used for training. The defence budget should be better managed. Money budgeted for one programme is too often transferred to another."

Focus on the future

Willem Steenkamp, a military observer, agrees that the practice of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" is one of the main reasons why especially the reserve force is suffering.

"It's an unhealthy principle inherited from the previous dispensation. When forces are deployed in a specific area, money is borrowed from the defence budget instead of having funds allocated for these specific exercises. The principle should be that 'the consumer pays'," he says.

He adds that the reserve force is temporarily in a weak condition. But it hasn't crumbled, its structure still stands. He believes restructuring the defence force at top level would certainly help.

"There's no shortage of potential recruits, but we have a shortage of funds to recruit and train them. Since the 90s the SANDF budget has been cut in real terms, but expenses have increased."

Steenkamp agrees with Heitman that top management and the administration could be downsized. "Maybe we should focus on the future task of the defence force and not on how much money we have. Thus far, planning has always centred round how much money we have and little attention has been given to long term planning," Steenkamp says.

With acknowledgements to Anastasia de Vries and Die Burger.