Armoured South African National Defence Force vehicles. Picture: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais
Armoured South African National Defence Force vehicles. Picture: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais

Tristen Taylor’s idea to "get rid of the entire SA National Defence Force" (On My Mind, July 9-15) is about as sensible as the calls in parts of the US to "defund the police" or disband police forces. That done, come the home robbery, who do you call? Perhaps the nearest university philosophy department? It’s hardly a useful approach.

Similarly, "getting rid" of the military in an era of increasing major power rivalry, spreading continental and regional conflict, and growing paramilitary capabilities of criminal groups would make no sense at all.

Take Taylor’s closing comment that we should rather provide "doctors, water specialists, food aid and emergency services" to aid people in war zones. Who would protect those kind people from rebels or bandits?

We live in an unstable region on an unstable continent plagued by multiple armed conflicts, and in an era of renewed major power competition that will almost inevitably affect Africa. To suggest "getting rid" of the military in those circumstances is akin to suggesting that SA "gets rid" of the police, and that we take down our fences, switch off the burglar alarms and cancel armed response contracts. I do not expect many would follow such advice.

It is also important to understand that rebuilding a military takes two to three decades; it’s not a case of buying equipment, sticking people into uniforms and sending them out to risk their lives. It takes time to develop officers and experienced noncommissioned officers, and to learn how best to apply new technologies to evolving threats. And threats can emerge far more quickly than armed forces can be rebuilt.

What we should do with the defence force in this time of tight funding is maintain core capabilities and concentrate on developing our officers and noncommissioned officers, adapting and refining doctrines to suit evolving threats, and learning how to apply developing technologies. That is to say, paying our insurance premium.

We should also, as far as our means allow, help particularly our fellow Southern African Development Community countries deal with threats, because it is in our own security and economic interests to do so.

Finally, I would like to address Taylor’s reference to the 2015 article that referred to our soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as "sex pests". I took the trouble at the time to do what neither the journalist nor Taylor did; I looked at the numbers.

Even assuming all the "substantive allegations" were genuine, comparing them with the number of troops deployed in the DRC over the period and then looking at the rate of proven sexual offences in SA gives an interesting result: our soldiers in the DRC were far better behaved than our civilians at home.

Perhaps some mind of a philosophical bent could ponder the reasons for that.

Helmoed Römer Heitman

The FM welcomes concise letters from readers. They can be sent to

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.