Elections and continuity in the DoD
African Armed Forces Website
Erika Gibson Column
Nobody doubted for a moment that 2014 will not be dominated by politics. It started already at former Pres. Nelson Mandela’s memorial service when the crowd boo-ed Pres. Jacob Zuma. Insults and promises will be the order of the day, depending on whom you are talking to.
What will also not happen is decision making. State departments including the Department of Defence (DoD) will function, but only just. Do not expect a single potentially controversial decision to be taken to approve a contract or appoint a senior person. Do not expect any Rubicon crossing speeches – in fact, most ministers will remain in a slumber of being visible on the radar, but not really moving in any direction.
Unfortunately within the DoD it has crucial implications for the future of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) if the Defence Review (DR) is not soon approved by Zuma, Cabinet and Parliament. Without the proper force model the DR provides, even fewer acquisitions will be approved. Then there is the question of which senior appointments will remain, where they are and which ones will be discarded for being in the wrong faction.
According to defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman, the SANDF is severely hampered by having no up to date guidelines as to its likely future missions, making it difficult to develop the relevant strategies, operational concepts and organisational structures, as well as making it difficult to plan for new equipment.
For instance: if we are going regional we not only need the transport aircraft but also air-transportable vehicles and useful training scenarios for courses, Heitman says.
“Worse, the Treasury keeps telling the SANDF and the Army in particular, that they must shrink personnel strength down to the level of the 1998 DR, when it is patently obvious that the Army has too few troops for its mission load. The Treasury does not, of course, remind the Air Force that it should form the medium fighter squadron listed in the 98 DR or the Navy that they need to buy the ships which was planned for in the same ’98 defence review.
“Bottom line, the SANDF urgently needs the DR finalised and approved by the President, Cabinet and Parliament, so that they can get on with implementing plans to adapt the SANDF to its likely future roles and missions,” Heitman says.
“The process was delayed when Lindiwe Sisulu, the former defence minister was moved, because the new minister wanted to be fully briefed by the SANDF and its constituent services before she could take any decisions. Now we had the Mandela funeral delay things again, and we have elections coming up.
“What is needed is an early approval – pre-election – of the DR and then we need the same minister to stay in office to at least begin implementation. A new minister would need to be briefed in and might want to make some changes – either because he or she sees things differently or just to make a mark. That would add another six months delay, and in the meantime the implementation of the DF slips further and further behind, with the ‘bow wave’ of equipment requirements growing to the point that it cannot be handled within any reasonable timeframe, resulting in yet another bow wave building up ahead of it.
“Any further delay is a near guarantee that the SANDF will be caught flat-footed by some major crisis or deployment,” a frustrated Heitman, who serves on the DR committee, said this week.
It has become abundantly clear in the last year that the defence force’s commitments are increasing, while its equipment just cannot keep up with the demand. Damage to two of its meagre fleet of Hercules C-130 aircraft also meant the Air Force is in much deeper trouble than a year ago. Nothing is known about the reported acquisition of Russian Ilyushin 76’s or any other aircraft for that matter. When that little arms deal became known everybody ran for cover and the Air Force is still sitting high and dry with its shrinking capability.
If only the DR could be approved, the planners could proceed with the administration involved in acquisition while the politicians battle it out at the polls. By the time the election is done by April/May, the next round of signatures can then be added. However, should the minister be replaced, the whole process comes to a grinding halt again – just as it did after Sisulu was transferred.
The rumours about a senior reshuffle in military top management have been doing the rounds since last year already. When the promotions and appointments lists were released in December it only went as far as Colonels being promoted to Brigadier General. The two star list remains a closely guarded secret – probably because some contingency plans will have to be made as and when the results of the election become known.
It is no secret that the top generals “belong” to different groupings within the ruling party. It is even less of a secret that the ruling party is not very happy with the performance of some of them. The question is who do they replace them with and will these replacements be in the “right” grouping. That is probably why politics and a defence force shouldn’t be allowed to influence one another. Then there is also the matter of some of the generals going on pension – or not any more. It becomes a whole big domino set-up which will reverberate all the way down the ranks if one of the top blocks tumble.
If the minister is shunted elsewhere again, the defence portfolio is going to become a bit of a laughing stock whereas it is considered one of the most senior positions in other governments. To have three ministers in five years will confirm why acquisitions in the SANDF are in such shambles. It will take a new minister at least six months to get acquainted with the department and another six months before he/she will put pen on paper to sign any contracts.
With the unapproved DR and uncertainty about the top structure, God help us if any more flashpoints of conflict might start flickering closer to home. We will not be able to help – in fact, we will probably not even be able to douse the ones on our own borders.
With acknowledgement toErica Gibson and African Armed Forces Website.
them it's all just a game.
As long as they can consume while they play.