Financial constraints and limited resources pose a "critical problem" to the running of the South African Navy and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as a whole, says South Africa’s Secretary for Defence, Sam Gulube.
“The challenges pose a serious and critical problem for the continued running of our navy and the rest of the armed forces. It is a challenge we continue to raise with our legislators in the sixth administration,” Gulube told delegates at the second Maritime Security Conference, in Simon's Town, Cape Town, on Friday.
The 2019 conference comes shortly before the Department of Defence budget vote next week, with Gulube having stated that the challenging times faced by the SANDF in the light of tough economic challenges would be raised in Parliament.
Gulube said the South African Navy was responsible for the maritime defence of South Africa and needed to be "sufficiently capacitated" to do its work in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity, which it was mandated to do by the Constitution.
He said the navy was also an important tool for the country’s foreign diplomacy and for naval exercises and patrols, while its assets and people needed to be supported.
Gulube said the navy was looking forward to the delivery of a new hydrographic survey vessel, the most technically advanced vessel ever built in South Africa. The 95 m ship will replace the SAS Protea, which has been in service since 1972. He said it would be a key challenge to integrate the vessel into the navy’s inventory while also building and sustaining the priorities of maritime domain awareness and the overall capabilities of the navy’s other vessels.
Gulube said while there were challenges, the coastal economy also had the potential to create many jobs.
Acting CEO of Armscor, Solomzi Mbada, conceded too that the conference came at a time of “shrinking budgets”.
“We need a partnering approach which will see our industry leveraging on our strengths in the maritime space. We also need sustainable solutions to maximizing the economic benefits presented by the Blue Ocean economy."
Overfishing, piracy, smuggling and trafficking topped the list of threats facing the world’s oceans and posed a threat to marine resources and growth, said Mbada.
He said despite the South African Navy’s tight financial position, it had been able to respond effectively to maritime crimes. South Africa is surrounded by 2 900 km of coastline from east to west.
Mbada also raised several innovative examples in African countries where countries were working effectively against threats to the blue economy, which covers oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. Namibia had established a naval base on the Zambezi more than 1 000 km from the sea, while Tanzania had mobile courts which could instantly rule on those "who destabilize the blue economy".
He said it was vital to protect the blue economy in Africa. A critical example was the Great Lakes area, where 80 000 fishing livelihoods were at stake and species under threat due to exploitation and declining resources.
Mbada called for an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to the blue economy, with different departments and industries working together. He said he hoped the conference would ignite strategic partnerships and strengthen relationships with all industry players and inter-governmental bodies.
The second Maritime Security Conference, held at the South African Naval Base in Simon's Town, has brought together experts from government, the military and maritime defence industry.