Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GCIS
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GCIS

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula bemoaned the inadequate budgetary allocation of R47.9bn for defence in her budget vote speech in Parliament on Friday.

Attempts by the minister to have the budget increased were not successful. She wanted the baseline for defence over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) to be raised by R18.2bn so that the Defence Review could be implemented. Instead there has been a reduction of R5.8bn in this year’s budget, with the result that there is a R3.2bn shortfall in the allocation for compensation of employees.

"The reduction translates to an R18bn reduction over the MTEF. This poses serious constraints to defence and the plan to arrest the defence decline remains unfunded," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

She said it seemed likely that the downward funding trajectory would continue for the foreseeable future. Should this be the case, urgent steps would have to be taken to stabilise the department and create a more sustainable defence capability, albeit at a lower level than was envisaged in the 1998 and 2015 Defence Reviews.

"We must put in place dramatic measures to ensure that the defence force can sustainably function within this reduced allocation. I have directed the department to formulate targeted interventions to achieve short-term sustainability. These interventions must ensure the least possible disruption to the fighting units and must enhance the South African National Defence Force's [SANDF's] operational output," the minister said.

She stated that defence should remain mandate driven, and not budget driven as was currently the case.

"Not only is the defence force expected to defend and protect SA, it is expected to rapidly intervene during crises on the continent. It must sustain peace support operations and continuously secure the land borders, the full maritime zone and the airspace. We also expect the defence force to be a key role-player in the cyber-defence of SA and to support other departments, when required. We further expect our defence force to execute our many international obligations.

"This level of ambition is not sustainable on the current level of funding. SA has now reached the point where it must make a decision on the kind of defence force it wants and what it can afford. Some of the countries in the Sadc [Southern African Development Community] are injecting financial resources to build their military capacity through acquisition programmes. Conversely, SA is on a path of reduced defence expenditure."

The minister noted that SA’s constrained ability to effectively manage, monitor and react to land, air and maritime threats allowed for the continuous inflow of illegal migrants, and the smuggling of goods, weapons and human trafficking, which contributed to internal instability and lawlessness.

The DA’s deputy shadow minister for state security, Herman Groenewald, said in his speech that SA could not afford to have dishonest, corrupt or incompetent people to head various government and state-owned agencies.

"SA’s damaged intelligence is at a crossroads. It is absolutely horrifying to see how state capture infiltrates into national intelligence through people without any integrity," he said.

What was needed was thorough vetting of employees.

"Without vetting, SA is sinking in the quicksand of moral decay, corruption and state looting," Groenewald said.

The DA’s shadow minister for defence, Kobus Marais, agreed that the department was underfunded.

“The SANDF budget has been reduced on a yearly basis, both in nominal and real terms. While comparable nations spend between 2% and 3% of GDP [on defence], we only spend 0.95% of GDP,” Marais said.

The R8bn reduction in real terms in the budget was “unrealistic, irresponsible and unsustainable” and increased vulnerability for the country, he said.