Lekota gives HIV Figures for Defence Force
The HIV/AIDS scourge is posing a bigger threat to the operational readiness of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) than the recently reported shortage of equipment, it emerged yesterday.
At a media briefing, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the latest statistics submitted by the SA Military Health Service to the department, showed that 22% of the 60 000 strong defence force was HIV-positive. This contrasts sharply with earlier reports which put prevalence rate at 60%. "That is the most ridiculous and most dangerous assertion," he said.
The 22% was a factual figure based on testing new recruits and "everybody" in the force .
"We have a duty to know the full health status of our members so that we do not kill them with exercises," he said.
The defence force was compelled by the constitution not to discriminate against anyone with a particular disease, including HIV/AIDS. As a result, infected soldiers could not be dismissed as government had a duty to take care of its citizens.
Lekota played down the effect of the prevalence on the army's operational readiness.
Turning to the Saldhana briefing called by Parliament's portfolio committee on defence on the state of the military's reserves last month, Lekota said there was no report which said the SANDF was not in a position to defend SA.
It was reported at the time that MPs were shocked to hear that only four tanks and eight Rooikat armoured cars were in operation, that the troops were "too old or unfit", and that equipment was poorly maintained. "There is no such report. If it was a report from the SANDF, I would also be having it," said Lekota.
If it was given to the committees of Parliament, not only the Democratic Alliance, everyone would have it. "Do you believe that this country has four tanks only?" he asked. It was plausible, said a journalist. "Oh really?" Lekota replied.
"The SANDF is perfectly placed to fulfil its obligations to the country. On the basis of our risk analysis we have no reason to believe it would fail or be unable to defend the country," he said.
The defence budget was cut in 1994 when the African National Congress came into power because there were more pressing social needs the government had to take care of.
However, this was not done at the expense of the defence of the country as there was the strategic defence package which focussed on building the "most crippled and obsolete" navy and the air force equipment.
"This was a deliberate calculation that we are capable of holding our own in dealing with any issue with the available resources and equipment from the point of view of landward defences," said Lekota.
Government remained satisfied that the army would deal with "any threat of any kind" in southern African or anywhere in the world when it came to landward defences.
"I find it peculiar and interesting that the people, who have been most vocal in opposing the strategic defence package, are the ones today who are complaining that we are not providing sufficient equipment and resources to the training of our defence force," said Lekota.
With acknowledgements to Xolani Xundu and Business Day.