TRISTEN TAYLOR: Abolish the army
The death of Collins Khosa has raised new questions about what purpose the army serves – other than to guzzle money SA doesn’t have
When a corrupt, defunct, ill-disciplined and inherently violent institution is used to police a country, human rights abuses are inevitable. The death of Collins Khosa was the direct result of using the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to enforce civil regulations.
According to the auditor-general, R5.13bn out of the military’s R50bn budget in 2018 cannot be accounted for. Over the past five years, an unapproved R900m was spent on Cuban mechanics to fix vehicles manufactured in SA by Denel. And, in the past financial year, the generals spent R20.5m of public money on luxury cars.
To make it worse, sexual exploitation and abuse are also rife within the ranks. Last year, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she was "aware of the rampant cases of [these] incidents internally in deployment areas, as well as in the working environment. These are kept under wraps by the commanders."
Defence expert Greg Mills estimates that only 10% of the SANDF’s 76,000 personnel are medically fit to be deployed. The average age at the SANDF is between 40 and 48. Expensive arms deal fighter planes, frigates and submarines are parked in hangars and docks because of a chronic lack of fuel. Much of the military’s equipment is obsolete or broken.
Military theorists have a solution: double the SANDF’s budget and reorganise combat services.
Writing in defenceWeb, Helmoed Römer Heitman argues the model for the SANDF should be "the German army between World War 1 and World War 2".
I have a better idea: getting rid of the entire SANDF. It’s a better solution than spending money we don’t have on something we don’t need.
The SANDF was the worst offender of gender-based violence of all the peacekeeping forces in the DRC
Instead, the SANDF’s budget could be spent on disaster management, emergency medical services and upgraded clinics and hospitals.
Ultimately, militaries are dedicated to one thing: slaughtering people. An army is an institution created, at great expense, to commit immoral and heinous acts that have no place in the modern world. The 100% guaranteed way for a country to prevent its army from killing and assaulting children — war always falls heaviest on civilians — is not to have an army.
Moral philosophy has moved on from the old ethic, popular around the 8th century BCE, that virtue consists of glory in war.
One of philosophy’s true heavyweights was rather sceptical of war. In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle argued that only defensive wars are just. In our geopolitical situation, this is irrelevant anyway: no-one is going to invade us, not even hyper-expansionary Lesotho.
The truth is that the real threat to our safety is not from external forces, but from each other. We don’t need Rooivalk attack helicopters; we need social workers, detectives, prosecutors, a working prison system and a functioning economy.
The SANDF is collapsing and unless we invest heavily — for which there are zero funds — there’s no hope for it. Better to sell off the Gripens, give the troops early retirement and save money. Militaries don’t create wealth, they consume it.
As for peacekeeping, we no longer have the aircraft to deploy troops and equipment north of the border. Nor do we have the ability to reinforce our troops. The 2013 debacle in the Central African Republic resulted in the fall of the Bozize government and soldiers coming home in coffins.
Contrary to government propaganda, the SANDF hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory on peacekeeping missions. Allegations of and convictions on sex crimes have dogged the army’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for decades. In a 2015 article entitled "An Army of Sex Pests", The Times reported that the SANDF was the worst offender of gender-based violence of all the peacekeeping forces in the DRC. And this happened in a country where mass rape was used as a weapon of war.
About R27m worth of military hardware went missing during the SANDF’s 2006 deployment in Burundi. Some of the weapons ended up in the hands of the FNL Phalipe-Hutu rebels who were attacking the largest city, Bujumbura, at the time.
If we’re brave enough to imagine it, there could be a different role for SA on the continent, and one that doesn’t involve hurting children (as our soldiers were convicted of in the DRC).
Civilian populations in war zones or suffering from natural disasters need doctors, water specialists, food aid and emergency services.
Let’s provide that rather, there and at home.
- Taylor is an associate at Stellenbosch University’s department of philosophy
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