Meeting with Royal Defence College, UK

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Defence and Military Veterans

08 May 2018
Chairperson: Mr M Motimele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with a delegation visiting from the Royal Defence College in the UK. The delegation provided Members with information on the background of the college. The students were brought over to learn about South Africa, Southern Africa and the whole region in terms of security, economy, development stability and challenges faced. Members in turn briefed the delegation on the role of the Committee, the Department and its entities. Members spoke to the mandate of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), SA’s role in the international community, inequality and cyber defence. Also raised were peace-keeping missions, challenges requiring improvement and the global village. 

The students raised a number of points and questions regarding outside aggression, role of the Committee, transformation of conventional forces to modern forces, the global village, role of the African Union and the nature of technology defence developed.

The Committee appreciated the visit and said that both the Committee and visiting delegation had much to learn from each and to collaborate on an international level.

Meeting report

Mr Stephen Evans, Diplomatic Services and Delegation Leader, thanked the Chairperson for the Committee’s hospitality. He gave a brief overview of the Royal Defence College - the college received 100 students of different nationalities where studies include international affairs and strategic issues. The college was very much an academic institution and international body. It was represented in 150 countries. Students were brought over to learn about South Africa, Southern Africa and the whole region. They wanted to learn about the changes SA faced related to security, economy and development stability. They wanted to look at challenges faced by Africa to inform the learning process.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee was not made up of soldiers but of Members of Parliament who undertook the oversight role over the Department of Defence and Military Veterans and its entities. Entities included ARMSCO, Castle Control Board, and SA Military Ombud Office. The Committee ensured that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) fulfilled its constitutional mandate was to defend the South African territorial integrity and its citizens. In the letter received from Mr S Marais (DA), it was said the college was interested in economic activities. In this regard, the said organs were also guided by the National Development Plan (NDP) – this is the blueprint document that guided the activities of the SANDF and other activities such as healthcare and education. The Committee was busy with the Defence Review and one of its goals was to ensure the SANDF participated in economic activities of the country. The Committee enacted laws and the law on the table was the Defence Amendment Bill. The Committee was about to amend the Military Veterans Act to ensure military veterans were taken care of.

Mr S Marais (DA) stated that the duty of the Committee was to see whether the sovereignty of South Africa was protected. It should be noted that SA came from a background of conventional warfare to a stage where there were conventional threats at SA borders. This gave SA an opportunity to protect the region. This was the reason why SA was a successful part of The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) with a mandate to stabilise the region. If the insecurity was not stabilised it could spill over to Southern Africa. Due to budget constraints, it was however difficult to achieve that. The main focus was to ensure that SA land borders were protected, including ensuring that those who were not welcome did not cross borders illegally. This did not include prevention of fellow Africans to come to SA legally. The focus included prevention of cross-border crimes, including human trafficking. There was also a responsibility of protecting SA ocean borders. In that context, SA was involved in the Mozambique Channel to prevent piracy, which migrated from the Somali coast to Southern Africa. SA had a huge coast line and the ocean was major part of the economy. The SANDF should therefore protect marine borders. There were also international treaties and obligations with regard to securing some islands over there even if they were not territories of SA. The question was, what was the importance of the coastline around Africa on the international community? It was the question which the UN should grapple with.  What was the interest of the international community to ensure the coastline was safe? The international community should contribute to securing the coastline. Given budgetary constraints, it would be difficult to secure the African coastal line. There should be a discussion on whether protection of the African coastal line was a global concern or not. If it was an international concern, the international community should collaborate as the rest of the world would be benefiting from its safety and security. International benefit was historical. The other question was defence technology - SA must play a role in ensuring development of the defence technology industry.

Mr G Michalakis (DA; Free State) said it was good to see Commonwealth countries around the table as there should be strong collaboration between the countries. He was proud that SA had the oldest air force in the world and was only younger to the UK.  A particular problem faced by SA, which was understandable, is inequality. Inequality impacted on the question of how SA should deal with social issues including housing, healthcare, education and employment versus military spending. SA had to grapple with the question of inequality in order to fund its defence which played a good role in restoring peace and security in the DRC. Another matter was military veterans which, post 1994, was complex and not simple. Post 1994, different armies were incorporated in the defence force. The incorporation posed a problem. These were issues that should be resolved even if the veteran matter was not pressing. Two months ago, Members visited South African troops in the DRC and they found that the army was very disciplined and professional. There were three arms of defence, namely, land, air and sea. A new arm had been created, that of cyber defence which was an international problem. Cyber defence was not receiving adequate attention simply because it was something which could not be seen. International collaboration was vital and important. He was of the view that this was one element of defence that affected the defence force severely. It needed attention and a lot of work.

Mr S Esau (DA) said that SA was involved in restoring security and peace-keeping missions on the continent for the interest of SA, Southern Africa and the continent as whole. There were interventions in the DRC and Sudan and, before that, Rwanda. There were many interventions and arbitrations which took place under the auspices of the UN as well as the African Union (AU). Lots of money was spent when restoring peace around the continent. However there had never been reimbursement. 75% of money spent had to be refunded. SA should cease these peace-keeping opportunities and invest in the countries that actually assist in interventions and not those counties that created instability and insecurity. There should be bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements. SA should train local armies to be able to defend against rebel forces. That was a key issue that SA focused on in terms of contributing to economic development. SA had an interest in the Mozambique Channel where it had Tanzania as partner to assist Mozambique to fight against piracy. SA also had special interests in East, Central and West Africa. There were no serious challenges on SA borders. There was only illegal trade. There was a need to increase the number of companies that controlled the borders in order to deal with boots crossing, inter alia, arresting people and ceasing illegal goods. There were challenges requiring improvement. Neighbouring countries were depending much on the SANDF to provide security on borders – otherwise, people moved to Africa and crossed borders as they pleased. The borders needed to be controlled. There was a need to have good relationships with neighbouring countries. The other matter requiring improvement was protection of parks in particular, protection of rhinos. Drones should be used. Surveillance of the area was improved on the side of SA and Mozambique. Economically, SA had to ensure its land borders and sea borders were secured. Other countries should not be allowed to exploit the South African seas. SA had a huge sea border line at the Indian Ocean. There were many activities taking place with less economic returns. SA ought to be strategic in finding how revenue could be generated. Locally, the SANDF assisted the South African Police Services (SAPS) to deal with gangsterism but the SANDF was not used commonly to deal with gangsterism or civil protests. It was used in exceptional circumstances. The SANDF ought to be requested to intervene and the request ought to be approved by the President. This was to avoid an impression that the army was used to deal with civil protest situations. Civil protests were rampant. SA was quite involved in the military exhibition because of its improvement on military technology. For a long time, SA was not active on the international market. ARMSCO was developing military equipment and military technology. These were technologically advanced and were exhibited on the international market. There was an annual exhibition. All companies involved or dealing with military equipment would attend. On the economy, an economy strived when it was stable and secure. People invested in the country that was secure and safe. This was the main focus of SA in order to attract international tourism and investment in the country. Security was the main concern as it was a pillar for any country to prosper.

Mr P Mhlongo (EFF) noted the comments from Members were insightful and enlightening. Members of the Portfolio Committee on Police were exposed to the reality of some good developments because the UK was moving to completely digitalised policing and this was impressive. The army played a key role in digitalising the police. There was enterprise work the army was involved in but such was cascaded down to the level of civilians. There could be no economic development in SA without Africa being secured as whole. The world today was unpredictable. Security should remain a high focus on global platforms - the visiting of the college today would strengthen the bilateral army relationship. When the Portfolio Committee on Police visited China in 2017, Members were exposed to serious developments there which were quite progressive and in line with what was envisioned in terms of combating cross-border terrorism and other cross-border crimes. Security and safety of Africa must become the main focus of Africa. There should be some kind of sharing information and assistance in ensuring sustainable security and security. There would be no prosperity in Africa if its resources and people were not protected to the benefit humanity, not only for Africans but the world at large.

While we lived in a global village, economic imbalances between nations must be taken into account.

In terms of budgeting, SA and its sister countries should take into account economic disparities of citizens and of the countries. The salient question was, how best could the respective defence forces be developed? Not having a sustainable defence mechanism, combined with civilian security policing, would make it difficult to maintain peace and security. There was an illicit flow of light arms. Arms were being dumped in African countries resulting in huge damages. Light arms were dumped in countries such as Libya and Angola. Everyone was aware of armed conflicts in these countries and other African counties. The remnant of what happened in Angola was notable and visible. The chaos in Libya was on-going and it was difficult to predict its security in the near future. What mechanisms should be put in place to ensure these problems were addressed and root causes were identified? If these armed conflicts were not effectively addressed, they would cause much damage to the African economy and development. Enhancement of security mechanisms should be done with a view to ensure arms did not fall into the hands of rebel groups. Due to Angolan conflicts, there were light arms causing havoc in SA and these weapons were channelled into the country through Mozambique. What could be done to ensure security in an unpredictable world? Another question is the role of the international community in protecting humanity and ensuring everyone enjoyed peace, security and economic stability. What was the role of all African and global countries to ensure peace and security to this generation and generations to come? There would be no peace without bilateral and multilateral institutions undertaken through the UN and AU. What was the role of the SANDF in the shared responsibility of ensuring a safer global village? This was the responsibility of this generation moving forward. Current failures would be failing future generations. Nuclear war was not created without political willpower. Did current leaders have the same leadership and willpower to secure their people? The engagement today would assist in dealing with matters of defence in a more proper and rational way. SA needed partners to ensure peace in Africa. There should be collaboration to deal with aggression and for SA to deliver in its peace-keeping missions.

Mr Evans stated that the main point he picked up was that we live in the global village and that there is a shared responsibility to secure that global village through multilateral institutions such as the UN, AU, European Union (EU) and other regional institutions. There were also issues of commonality.

The visiting students then made some remarks and asked questions. These included:

  • South Africa looked like a hub of economic activities in Africa at large although there were challenges. Security and safety was the main challenge. Defence was one of instrument to ensure peace and security. How did SA ensure there was no aggression from outside? SA is not an island and is connected to the rest of the world
  • The Committee was responsible for conducting oversight over the Department and its entities. Did the Committee find situations where its recommendations were not implemented by the Department or entities? What were mechanisms in place to ensure the Committee’s recommendations or resolutions were complied with?
  • In order to protect national interests and territorial integrity, it was stated there was need to shift from conventional forces to modern forces - what measures or mechanisms are in place to ensure transformation of conventional forces to modern forces?
  • Emphasis was placed on technology defence – what is the nature of technology defence being developed?
  • Regarding the multilateral institution of the UN, what is the role of the AU and how valuable is it restoring and maintaining peace and security on the continent?
  • Given that the Committee consists of Members from the ruling party and opposition, is the Committee united in discharging its mandate?
  • One of the students remarked that he had opportunity to work in the DRC under MONUSCO and was aware of SA’s role in restoring peace in the DRC – what structures were put in place for SA to work better with the alliances and partners in Africa? Was the structure a standard one?
  • Referring to the protection of vulnerable groups, a question was asked on whether there was a policy to eradicate poverty as a part of ensuring security.

The Chairperson responded that there was not any kind of defiance against implementing resolutions or recommendations taken by the Committee. If the Department or entity did not implement any resolution and recommendation, there would be a good reason. When a resolution or recommendation was not implemented, the Department or entity would return to brief the Committee on why this was not done. More often than not, a recommendation would not be implemented due to financial constraints or other logical reasons. Members did not shout at the Department and its entities but to engage with them in a constructive way. There was a common understanding among Members when performing their duties as political differences were set aside. All Committees were chaired by ANC Members, except for the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) which was chaired by a Member of the opposition.  

Mr Marais seconded this. He said the Committee worked very well irrespective of having Members from different political parties. He further remarked that the Department and its entities could be subpoenaed to appear before the Committee if the situation demanded it. There was a format of reporting to the Committee in that the Committee exercised checks and balances. The Committee was briefed on progress of departmental activities.

On developing a weapon system, SA was known around the world as innovative. During apartheid, defence was highly developed and highly technical. That defence industry still existed and was encouraged to proceed. It was in the hands of the private sector and very much alive. SA was still on top in terms of technology. The SANDF was not the only client of the South African defence industry - clients came from the global village.

In terms of security and the region, SA was not island. There were Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries which included neighbouring countries and distant countries such as Tanzania. SA’s involvement in the DRC was a SADC project. The SANDF was deployed because of its military knowledge. In a broad way, the SADC project involved the AU and UN. The SADC project formed part of the interventions of MONUSCO. Apart from that, SA worked closely with Australia, India, Russia and China simply because the Indian Ocean was international water.

On the transformation of the defence force, Mr Marais said there was the Defence Review which was a very important document. It demonstrated how the conventional defence force should be transformed in the new SA. There were economic setbacks in terms of funding the Defence Review in order to achieve what SA wanted. It was difficult to get to the transformational goal but the Defence Review document was fantastic and realistic. Peace-keeping in the DRC was undertaken by SA through alliances.

Mr Michalakis responded that the AU was a diplomatic forum for the African continent and played a main role as it provided a continental platform where common problems could be discussed. However, it did lack a forum that fulfilled the oversight role of complying with human rights and democratic governance protection. It was also problematic that not all African countries shared all these values. The continent needed to work on and establish a body that promoted democratic and good governance and human rights values. The AU had been concerned with the state security. In SA, state security matters were confidential. Although these matters were dealt with by Members of Committees, that included Members of the opposition, discussions had to remain confidential.

Mr Mhlongo stressed that SA’s Constitution remained the main weapon. SA was a constitutional state. The Constitution provided the mandate of the defence force and the SAPS. There was a separation of power and this separation was the basis of stability in SA.

The AU was a product of the Organisation of African Union (OAU). At present, the AU was a multilateral institution under construction. There was a Pan-African Parliament which was currently sitting and grappling with very difficult issues on the continent and around the world. The AU was helping South Africa a lot. The issue the AU should concern itself with is that many African states had become failed states due to a number of reasons. People had to give impetus to this organ to ensure it worked independently. There was willpower to see the AU moving. There was an indication from the South African side to build a strong organ. Poverty that people saw in Africa was not because Africa was poor but because of poor ideas. There was a need for cooperation and collaboration but, over and above this, there was a need to uphold the rule of law. Criminals were hiding in political leadership in that they were engaging in looting their countries and neighbouring countries with impunity. This was a problem. He assured the visiting delegation that the young blood would not allow the old generation to continue to plunder resources of the continent. This generation should bring the dreams of fathers of African nations into reality – before this current generation died, this dream should have been achieved.  

The Chairperson said that in order to deepen SA’s democracy and good governance, there was nothing SA could do without inviting its people to participate. The Defence Review was done with aim of strengthening the defence force. This was how the Committee worked.

Mr Evans thanked the Committeefor its insightful and interesting information. He remarked that the country was doing well and people were looking proud wherever he went. Drawing from the brief, he noted the importance of the international order and what countries benefit from it. That was linked to the question of democratic governance and democratic oversight. Another important issue that was touched on was military technology - it was mentioned that military technology was needed in terms of defending land, sea, air and cyber. There was a need for huge technological transformation including technological development of intelligence. The role of the Committee included bringing in the public to share how best the defence could be improved. Another important point was that the economy underpinned stability.

Mr Marais thanked the visiting delegation and stated that the Committee and delegation had much to learn from each other as a part of collaboration at an international level.

The meeting was adjourned.


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