The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is currently incapable of properly performing all its functions, Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla pointed out at the recent Land Forces Africa conference, in Midrand. “The  Defence Review has brought to the fore that our force levels are far below those needed to fulfil the missions assigned by the politicians. “It is one of the challenges we rapidly need to respond to.”
He highlighted that the SANDF, and especially the South African Army (SA Army) was once more responsible for the security of the country’s land borders, which extend for some 4 800 km. Further, the country was flanked by two oceans, the threat of Somalia-based piracy was moving south, and the South African Navy had to be capable of safeguarding South and Southern Africa’s sea routes so that the country and the region could continue to enjoy the benefits of free trade. “Taxpayers often ask why government spends money on defence,” he observed. “But the money government spends on defence buys future peace and deterrence.”
“All the main acquisition programmes are thoroughly investigated to ensure our soldiers are equipped with the right equipment at the right time,” he assured. “The Republic of South Africa’s commitment to peace and stability in the region remains unquestionable.” But, he noted, participation in peacekeeping operations elsewhere in Africa was placing a heavy burden on the SANDF. South African forces had to be appropriately equipped for the ‘African battlespace’. Multinational military cooperation within Africa – the African Union ‘Standby Force’ and the regional Southern African Development Community brigade – was very important.
At the same conference, Chief of the SA Army Lieutenant-General Vusumuzi Masondo argued that the “African continent today is under an increasing plethora of security threats”, which included State decay and insurgencies. “Conflict now revolves around the security of the individual rather than of the State.” There was a “gap between the emerging complex conflict environments in Africa and the sluggish military responses [to them]”.
Various problems contributed to this sluggish response, including lack of fiscal resources to invest in the correct equipment and lack of adequate training. The continent also has widely different geographies and environments, from open deserts to thick jungles, rugged mountains to expansive plains, and thick bush to open savannas.
Moreover, even when forces have the requisite training and equipment, they remain hampered by the sheer size of Africa and its poor communications infrastructure. Thus, many ports are underdeveloped. Further, there are few airfields capable to taking the heavy transport aircraft required to move military equipment around, and/or capable of handling a lot of traffic.
Another problem is the porous nature of African State borders, making it easy for irregular groups to cross from one country into another. This requires ground forces to be highly mobile. The continent is also undergoing rapid urbanisation, and combat operations in urban areas are difficult – practically, legally and ethically, as it is hard to tell the difference between civilians and combatants.
However, this need to address the requirements of peacekeeping elsewhere in Africa should not result in the neglect of national defence capabilities, which are necessary to uphold national sovereignty and prevent conflict. “Raw combat power should not be neg- lected,” affirmed Masondo. “The concept of deterrence still retains validity.”