Regional insurgency, internal unrest highlights importance of a strong, well-resourced defence industry

19th August 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

The role the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has played and plays in ensuring the internal and external security of South Africa has again highlighted the importance and necessity of having a strong Department of Defence (DoD) and a strong defence industry, South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) chairperson Sefale Montsi said on August 19.

"An adequately funded and well-equipped defence [force] is essential and the events of the past month have highlighted the absolute need to shore up the sovereign security of South Africa," she noted.

Montsi highlighted the role of the deployment of 25 000 SANDF members to help police in quickly bringing to an end the violent unrest, looting and riots that took place in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July.

She also highlighted the role the SANDF played in helping to enforce the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, as well as the help they provided to hospitals during the current third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Montsi also highlighted the recent deployment of 1 495 SANDF members to neighbouring Mozambique as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda intervention force to combat insurgents who have been present since 2017.

"The matter of sovereign security is more key than ever. The pressing need for internal and sovereign security was highlighted by the week-long rioting and looting in the country.

"The challenge presented since 2017 by insurgents who caused instability in Mozambique's northern regions has the potential to destabilise the region and has disrupted the country's oil and gas industry. South Africa and Mozambique's other neighbours can ill afford the insurgency spilling over their borders or the impact of displaced people seeking refuge," she said.

Mozambique has accepted the help of SADC and Rwanda, and significant gains have been made.

"The SANDF is an active peace-time defence force, participating in search and rescue, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, building bridges and helping in hospitals, among many tasks. The SANDF has undertaken more than 14 African Union and United Nations missions in Africa since 1999.

"The DoD is working hard for the people of South Africa and for internal and external sovereign security. We must also not forget the role the SANDF played in response to the Covid[-19] pandemic, especially during the third wave when 10 000 SANDF members were deployed to hospitals to help healthcare workers."

Further, the cyberattack on State-owned logistics agency Transnet, which disrupted port and pipeline operations and led to losses in the manufacturing, banking, energy and other sectors, and globally increasing cyberattacks, makes cybersecurity a key part of a national security strategy.

"We have also seen increasing interest and investment in space. The physical and virtual security of our assets in space must be secured to fully realise their benefits in South Africa," Montsi said.

"AMD has noted with concern the decline of State-owned defence company Denel, which has affected the entire industry," she said.

The DoD appointed a team to support the five-year turnaround plan and return Denel to profitability. Other aerospace and defence master plan initiatives are enhancing funding and financial support for the industry, developing human capital and commercialising the South African intellectual property in the sector, and developing a South African advanced research project agency, she added.

South Africa has significant capability in artillery, self-protection systems, mine detection vehicles, secure communications, electronic warfare and radar systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and guided weapons.

"As part of the development of the master plan that AMD took part in, there have been many initiatives identified to enhance defence export opportunities around these and other technologies. New advanced technologies have been identified for further development, such as a helicopter hostile fire indicator. Many local and multinational companies have committed to participate in the aerospace and defence master plan.

"It is in our interest, together with the DoD, to have a strong and agile aerospace and defence industry," Montsi concluded.