Publication: Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy Issued: Date: 1997-10-23 Reporter: Joe Modise

The SA Navy and an African Renaissance Opening Address



Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy
Occasional Paper No 27

Date 1997-10-23


The Honourable Mr Joe Modise,
Minister of Defence

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Annual Naval Conference

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It gives me great pleasure and pride to open this historic conference on The South African Navy and an African Renaissance here in Simon's Town. This year has indeed been an outstanding year for the Navy. The 75th anniversary celebrations provided an opportunity for President Mandela to take the salute at a magnificent International Fleet Review in Table Bay in honour of the democratic South Africa and the SA Navy in April of this year. There were representatives of 37 countries, 14 of whom sent a total of 22 ships and 3 maritime patrol aircraft,to take part in this illustrious event.

The Fleet Review made an indelible impression on the President, who later said in his opening address for the President's budget debate "Few can have been unmoved by the sight of ships and sailors from nations across the world, gathered in Table Bay to pay tribute to the navy of our new democracy. And fewer still would have failed to appreciate the requirements of the defence force for modern equipment, within the context of the Defence Review under way."

During these celebrations President Mandela stated that the Defence Review would lead to the "Renaissance of the South African Navy" the regaining of its capabilities. Later in the year, the Navy provided the SAS Outeniqua to assist the President in brokering vital peace negotiations during the crisis in the former Zaire.

The significance of this event is underscored by Deputy President Mbeki, who has remarked that wherever he travels, African leaders and heads of state have expressed support for the role South Africa is playing, and have been moved to comment on their pride that the SAS Outeniqua is an 'African ship'. The Navy has always responded promptly and professionally to calls of assistance from Africa, and has built respect in many other ways.

Last year, the Navy provided vital humanitarian assistance in the form of diving teams, to Tanzania after the terrible ferry disaster. In fact, within 24 hours of the request for assistance, South African divers and equipment were in place at Lake Victoria. Before that, the Navy assisted with the transportation of relief aid for Rwanda to Kenya. More recently, the SA Navy has been playing a key leadership role in the Standing Maritime Committee (SMC) of the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC).

Reinforcing the African Renaissance

There is clearly a new spirit in the air and a marked change in attitude towards South Africa as a result of our new democracy. South Africa is now able to become fully involved in Africa, and the continent looks to us to extend a helping hand. Former President Julius Nyerere the Lion of the Independence Struggle has re-emphasised a theme he has previously expressed during his recent visit to South Africa South Africa must take up its responsibility, particularly in Africa south of the Sahara. Clearly, this mood is reflective of what our President and Deputy President have identified a great revival and re-awakening in Africa what Deputy President Mbeki has called an African Renaissance.

Some might question the paradoxical role that defence has to play in this grand vision, since a Renaissance brings to mind the burgeoning of new ideas and values, the flowering of art and culture, the progress of science, and the growth of technology, productivity and prosperity. But, defence reinforces this Renaissance by guaranteeing peace and security, and, historically, has always acted as a driver in developing technology. These are clearly the prerequisites for a successful rebirth and an age of enlightenment.

Africa is a continent which has been ravaged by the scourge of colonial conquests, and in Julius Nyerere's words, "neo-colonial domination", which has left behind a legacy of poverty, conflict, military coups, and foreign economic domination. The vital lesson in an unpredictable world is that African states must be able to protect the people, resources, and the sovereignty of the countries on the continent. This security, therefore, has to be ensured by the capacity of Africa's own defence forces, which need to be developed and strengthened. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) can be among the champions of this Renaissance, jointly performing a role as guardians of peace, guarantors of stability and standard bearers for the ideals of democracy and progress.

A military role commensurate with Africa's Renaissance will see South Africa's new constitutional vision for defence influencing the continent, with the democratic policies formulated in the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review impacting on military thinking, in the region and beyond. It will see such principles as civilian control of the military and a new, democratically inspired culture, informing Africa's defence community and promoting co-operation for the common security and well-being of Africa's people. We must, therefore, have the ability to fly our flag proudly when projecting peace in this way. The SA Navy can play a major role in this respect. It can assist peace support operations through the transport of personnel and equipment, the securing of ports and sea lanes, and the landing of peacekeeping troops when and where necessary.

The White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review

There has been, as is well known, quite a sharp but healthy debate in the country since the 1994 elections about defence expenditure. This is thrown into critical relief by the fact that we must focus on the socio-economic advancement of our people. Through the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review process with its unparalleled inclusivity and consultation we have been able to formulate a balanced response that has been endorsed by Cabinet and Parliament. This approach addresses both security and socio-economic upliftment 'guns and butter, houses and corvettes', defence needs and development.

Government can now focus on implementing the Review, in particular, on the acquisition of major items to replace ageing equipment in the defence inventory, and after years of neglect, key requirements for the Navy. Priorities include, among others

In this regard, many countries are offering South Africa attractive defence procurement packages that enable the country to acquire military hardware while creating jobs, training and education opportunities for our work force and other benefits, possibly including the development of harbours, shipbuilding capacity, and ship-repair facilities.

Far from defence being a drain on the country's resources, these agreements will enormously benefit the GEAR Strategy by giving our economy and industry a major boost. The scope of these packages clearly extends beyond conventional defence funding as provided for in our current budget, but this does not mean that the procurement process is unaffordable or will be put on hold, as some have mistakenly suggested. What must be understood, is that the relevant funding for these packages is at the discretion of Cabinet following its endorsement of the Defence Review. A very strong case has been put forward through the Defence Review whereby Cabinet and Parliament have accepted that essential equipment requirements can be linked to strategic defence and trade co-operation programmes with major partners abroad. And in the words of Deputy President Mbeki, it is possible "to handle these acquisitions outside the national budget."

The SA Navy's Role

The Navy's primary role is to protect our seas and access to these seas. We are a trading nation, and trading nations need a navy. We are an island economy, with most of our trade conducted by sea, and we have clear maritime interests to safeguard. If we consider that more than 80 per cent of the value of our trade with the rest of the world, and over 92 per cent of its volume pass through our ports, it is clear that more suitable combat vessels than our ageing strike craft and Daphne submarines are necessary to patrol our sea lanes, to ensure the safety of international maritime traffic, and to allow secure access to our ports of entry for those who wish to do business with us. Potential foreign investors are a hard-nosed group, and they want to be sure of long term security and stability. The presence of an effective naval capacity is therefore the guarantor of a country's capability to secure these vital sea lanes for trade and communication during peacetime and war.

Moreover, and in terms of our national economy, we need to guarantee the integrity of our new 200-mile maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), including that around Marion and Edward islands which is the same size as the land mass of our country, and which is rich in fish and untapped mineral resources beneath the seabed. Although our navy is designed to fulfil its primary role of defending the nation, it is also capable of assisting in the maritime policing task, and should do so to help earn its keep. The central point to bear in mind is that South Africa, in fact, cannot afford both a navy and a coast guard, and it would be a downright waste of resources not to utilise our naval capability for peacetime purposes.

The answer lies in mutual support between existing agencies for example, the Navy supporting Sea Fisheries, just as the Army and Air Force support the Police on land with all state departments working together to avoid duplication of capabilities. If we have managed to keep poaching and other illegal activities in our EEZ within constraints, it must surely point to the Navy as being a deterrent quite unlike the situation in the waters of our neighbouring states where poaching is rampant. The very fact that there is not yet a major problem in our waters is surely proof of the Navy's success in its support for Sea Fisheries.

And if a foreign power, for example, were to attempt to settle a fishing dispute in our seas in their favour, by means of a naval demonstration, our Navy would need to act simultaneously in a defensive and a policing role. Those with the responsibility of defending our sovereignty cannot afford to rule out such an eventuality. Examples of even democratic countries at loggerheads with one another over scarce resources cannot be ignored, as in the recent case of Canada and Spain, or the 'Cod War' between Britain and Iceland. And given the intense competition over these scarce resources, who can guarantee that such confrontation will never occur in our waters?

South Africa is strategically placed to render assistance both to the South Atlantic littoral states, such as Namibia and Angola, and to those on the Indian Ocean Rim, such as Mozambique and Tanzania, among others. In this regard, we have been approached by the President of Mozambique, and the Defence ministers of Tanzania and Namibia, for assistance in guarding their maritime interests from poaching and plundering. We can play a significant role in helping to build their naval capability and maritime interests for the common benefit of our entire region. The Navy could be at the leading edge of any such a policy by providing a non-threatening focus for co-operation. This can be accomplished through

joint training, and the provision of logistic support to our neighbours in policing their EEZs;

search and rescue; and

marine conservation.

Clearly, if there is to be an African Renaissance, then we must be able to guard our marine wealth, assist our neighbours in this respect, and co-operate with the navies of our continent.

The Navy's Needs

Following the Defence Review, we need to critically evaluate the Navy's share of the budget. This is of particular importance in the light of the fact that it has been the stepchild of the armed forces, owing to the apartheid state's myopia, isolation, and concentration on landward forces. The Navy's share of the total defence budget is a paltry 8,8 per cent and has been well below ten per cent for many years. This needs to be critically re-examined, particularly since the Navy has a leading role to play in this new era of Africa's Renaissance.


In capturing the spirit of the times, I believe this conference will serve as a significant milestone in the promotion of maritime awareness in South Africa. The contributions of your eminent participants will, through stimulating informed discussion, further the debate on the role of the Navy in the African Renaissance.

I would like to conclude with the words of President Mandela from his address to the International Fleet Review at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the South African Navy "The sea is a vital national interest and that is why we maintain the Navy. Just as we believe that all people should be free, so too as a nation we believe in the freedom of the seas. That is a matter of national strategic interest. We are a maritime nation trading all over the world. We accept our obligation to combine with other maritime nations to uphold the freedom of the seas and to protect our national interests through naval power."

With acknowledgements to Mr Joe Modiese and Institute for Security Studies : Institute for Defence Policy.