2015 Defence Review: Department of Defence and Military Veterans briefing


17 October 2019
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (ANC); Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) briefed the Committee on the 2015 Defence Review. It stated that the review was predominantly based on eight principles, the most important being Principle VII which held that the SANDF would be organised into military combat formation, where there would be a clear distinction between command and staff lines regarding administration, deployment and resources. They reflected on South Africa’s history and acknowledged its past experience of apartheid, and the different role that the military now had to play in the democratic society by adjusting its strategic intent appropriately.

The vital interests of the military were protecting the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, ensuring the security of its strategic resources, ensuring the freedom to trade and to work with partner states, to achieve peace, security and stability in the region, and to create conditions for economic growth and development. The SANDF’s capability and capacity must ensure the defence of the Republic’s sovereignty, the protection of its vital interests, and be able to support multi-national interventions in Africa. Adopting the recommendations of the Defence Review was crucial to stabilise, restore and ensure the defence capability of the country. South Africa’s required defence capabilities for land, air and sea were discussed, and overviews of the necessary leadership, discipline, management and resource systems were highlighted.

The Committee decided that to allow the SANDF to present a proper overview of their presentation, discussion and questions by the Members would be scheduled for another occasion. This would allow the SANDF to prepare responses on further issues raised by the Committee regarding the availability of its soldiers for immediate deployment if necessary, and to expand their delegation to the Committee, if needed, to address these concerns.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the purpose of the meeting was to receive a review on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The original item on the agenda was the renewal of the SANDF’s organisational structure, which would still be touched on. The SANDF delegation at the meeting had played an integral part in authoring the review document.

The delegation was invited to present its briefing on 2015 Defence Review. This delegation consisted of Major-General Michael Ramantswane, Brigadier-General John Gibbs, Mr Nick Sendel (Chief Director), and Mr Reggie Marimi (Parliamentary Liaison Officer), who each introduced themselves to the Committee.

SANDF on 2015 Defence Review: Briefing

Mr Nick Sendal commenced by giving an overview of the development of South Africa’s national defence policy over the past two decades. The Defence Review Committee was a ministerial committee established by the Minister of Defence in terms of Treasury regulations, and had been appointed by the Minister along with a resources group working with research and analysis of the country’s defence policies.

Evolution of South African defence policy

On the day South Africa became a democracy in 1994, there was no policy regulating matters of defence. While it had its origins in CODESA I, CODESA II and the National Peace Accord, the real discussion around defence matters took place in the Defence Review Committee, the sub-Council for Defence, and the Joint Military Coordinated Committee. The first discussions took place to formulate the future policy for defence with military groups formulated to research this area. When the first democratic administration came into effect, they embarked on a White Paper on Defence in 1996, which set the key policy on defence as an endeavour of the Ministry of Defence. Thr White Paper laid down the first concise concepts related to South Africa’s policy on defence. From this, the 1998 Defence Review was built on those underlying principles.

However, in parallel with this development, the Department of Defence (DoD) had gone through a transformation project to become more efficient on a technical level, which informed some of the products of the 1998 Defence Review. These were the benchmarks in the development of South Africa’s defence policy. In 1999, a White Paper on peace missions and a White Paper on the defence-related industry were drafted as significant extensions of the defence policy, which were the first attempt at laying out the labour market, skills and feasibility of the various parts of the defence industry.

Due to the decline in the country’s military strength, there were attempts in 2002-2003 to develop a new military strategy and to mobilise funds to support new and sustainable designs for the defence force, which was influenced by the Parys Resolutions. Between 2004 and 2007, the cost-constrained defence update process was developed to engage with the Committee, to recognise the constrained resources of the Department being put to efficient use. In 2009-2010, the mandate-driven defence strategy process had been developed for 2010-2013. The balance between the mandate-driven and cost-constrained defence policies had always been controversial, and a balance must be upheld between these two approaches. There was a need to consider what level of defence was needed by South Africa, what the capabilities of that level of defence were, and what could be sustainability afforded. These three considerations must meet somewhere in the middle for South Africa to have an effective, yet cost-efficient military.

A defence review would be the national policy on defence that gives government the strategic intent in terms of the public and security sector, informing how the military would go about their business. The key words were ends, ways and means. Any document -- whether it was a White Paper, a Green Paper or a Bill -- had to deal with those three concepts relating to our national defence. Ends refer what the objectives or strategic outcomes that needed to be achieved were. Ways refer to the concepts, methods or instruments one uses to achieve those ends. Lastly, once the concepts and the doctrinal approach had been finalised, means refers to the middle way of achieving the ends, such as equipment, money and resources. A policy document must be strong on ends and ways, and must indicate the means of how to deliver on its outcomes.

The Defence Review Committee consults with the Defence Force, the African Union (AU), the government, and civil society, and their defence review would be based on eight basic principles which were followed throughout the SANDF’s reports and review documents.

Co-chairperson Xaba interrupted the presentation, stating that the Members did not have this list of principles before them or attached to the presentation given to the Committee.

Mr Sendel responded that it had been added to the presentation after the version sent to the Committee, but that it would be made available to the Committee immediately after the meeting. The most important principle was Principle VII, stating that the SANDF would be organised into military combat formation, where there would be a clear distinction between command and staff lines regarding administration, deployment and resources.

Strategic environment for present and future conflicts

Brigadier-General John Gibbs started off by reflecting on South Africa’s history and the past experience of apartheid, and the different role that the military must now play in a democratic society. The key challenges were the increase in poverty, income inequality, unemployment, education and criminality. The Defence Review was carefully aligned with the National Planning Commission’s diagnostic report and the National Development Plan (NDP).

The world today presented increasingly more complex and unstable threats to the country’s national security, requiring its future defence force to operate in complex, highly fluid and lethal environments. Conflicts on the continent of Africa were mostly internal, intra-state conflicts. In the Republic of South Africa, high levels of migration, political uncertainty and protests were examples of internal conflicts that were related to the security of the country.

Future missions would range from non-combat operations with little use of force, to major combat operations with the required use of lethal force. It would require the collaboration with other governmental departments, multi-national organisations and defence forces, and humanitarian agencies.

Domestically, South Africa’s national security focuses on upholding our sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order, the security and continuance of national institutions, the well-being, prosperity and upliftment of the people, the growth of the economy and good governance. Regionally, SA’s national security focuses on extending international influence, securing external vital interests, enduring stability, unity and prosperity of the region and the continent of Africa, and growing the South African economy through access to new markets and opportunities. Protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was a vital interest and includes air space, islands, territorial waters, estimated economic zones, extended continental shelf claims and our cyber-domains.

The second vital interest was to ensure the security of SA’s strategic resources, such as its minerals, energy and water – the safe and secure delivery, processing and distribution of these resources was also a military priority.

Thirdly, the military must ensure the freedom to trade, including the free use of land, air and sea trade routes by South African traders, by upholding the safety and security of trade and transport hubs available.

The fourth vital interest was to work with partner states to achieve peace, security and stability in the region to create conditions for economic growth and development through the expansion of markets on the continent of Africa.

In the SANDF’s strategic concept of defence, three layers were present:

Layer one deals with influencing the international security agenda through optimised defence diplomacy and to achieving active multi-lateral and bilateral engagements with the involvement of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations.

Layer two upholds the safeguarding of the South African state, its people and its territory and to promote peace, security and development in Africa through participation in peace support and allied operations.

Layer three was to collaboratively or deliberately protect the country’s vital interests, and to defend the sovereignty of the Republic against any imminent or direct threat.

SANDF’s mission was to defend and protect SA, its territory, sovereignty and people and enhance peace, security and development. This mission could be broken into four main goals, as addressed in chapters 5-8.

The President of the South Africa, the Minister and the Executive had the fundamental role in directing defence matters. There was an unfettered line of military command from the Commander-in-Chief down to each individual unit commander.

SANDF’s main goals

To defend the SA, the defence force was constitutionally mandated to deter and prevent conflicts, and to defend South Africa. This required a balanced suite of military capabilities.

It had a duty to defend and protect South Africa’s territory, people, borders, strategic installations and air, maritime and cyber spaces. This extended to safeguarding SA’s borders and critical infrastructure, supporting the South African Police Service (SAPS), and ensuring information security.

To promote regional and continental peace and security, South Africa should enhance its strategic influence through the shaping of the multi-lateral security agenda, pursue critical multi-laterals security objectives, develop regional and continental partnerships, and participate in selected bilateral mechanisms. The SANDF would optimise its representation in multi-lateral security institutions and maintain a credible expeditionary capability to execute ordered commitments on the continent.

The defence force’s international obligations include hydrography and maritime charting, and aeronautical, maritime and other search and rescue support operations. Civil authorities must be assisted in times of crises, and the SANDF must contribute to South Africa’s developmental agenda and execute tasks in support of the President of the Republic.

Required defence capabilities

Regarding the required defence capabilities, the prevention and resolution of conflict in Africa would be enhanced through the coordinated and integrated application of the political, diplomatic, economic and military capabilities of the state, as well as expanded defence diplomacy efforts to foster long-standing relationships with African states and other key strategic partners. Defence command and control would be network-enabled, and supported by comprehensive situational awareness capability at all levels.

The potentially volatile security environment dictates an increased reliance on special forces, indicating an expansion of their current capability. South Africa’s continental leadership role and the protection of its own vital interests requires a specialised, high-readiness rapid deployment combat capability that has reach and could respond to specific prevention and intervention operation requirements. The wide range of defence tasks requires the larger portion of the landward defence capability to be configured and maintained as a projectable, multi-role medium-combat capability. A core of heavy landward combat capabilities is required to ensure a deterrence foundation that could augment firepower and protection of medium combat forces and expand rapidly if the need arises.

The maritime-dependent economy and the extensive maritime trade routes and marine resources of South Africa require the enduring presence of an appropriate blue water navy, with strategic reach and inclusive of surface, sub-surface, air and combat support capabilities, supported by a comprehensive maritime domain awareness capability.

South Africa’s air defence capability had to provide deterrence and the ability for powerful intervention for landward, maritime and air defence operations. Air domain, awareness, air combat, combat support and air mobility capabilities were focused on effective joint operations.

South Africa requires a military health protection capability for deployed forces through sustained, layered military health support, including both deployable force health protection and force health sustainment. Protecting the force’s cyber-domain takes place through a comprehensive information warfare capability, integrated into its intelligence-related information systems at all national and international defence levels. The SANDF must be able to project and sustain forces over extended distances for protracted periods that are supported by strategic air-lift and sea-lift and rail and road networks.

Defence strategic trajectory:

South Africa had adopted a defence policy focusing on expanding independently. This involved retaining its sovereign independence, commensurate with its defence capabilities and continental expectations, having a significant ability to reach and intervene over time, and securing its continental gravitas and vital interests.

Milestone no. 1 was regarded as the current situation in South Africa in 2014-15). Milestone no. 2 involved an arrest in the decline. Milestone no. 3 was to capacitate its forces, and Milestone no. 4 involved meeting all the ordered commitments and being ready to react to challenges facing the country. The levels of sustainable deployable capabilities for each of these milestones were outlined, with reference to the deployable regions, and with their associated costs listed and compared.

Guidelines for force generation included:

optimising defence diplomacy capabilities;
enhancing domain awareness and intelligence and analysis capabilities;
an increased reliance on Special Forces and the establishment of the Special Operations Forces;
projectable medium-combat forces;
implementing a versatile littoral maritime force with a credible deep water capability;
comprehensive air combat and mobility capabilities;
a core of heavy combat capabilities;
deployable health protection for deployed forces;
forward basing, force projection and sustainment for protected periods by air, land and sea; and
the support of a viable and responsive defence industry.

Leadership, discipline and management systems:

Reflecting on the type of future defence leaders required by South Africa, the specific competence must be established in the various ranks. The establishment of a Defence Academy must be provided for that would imbue future military officers with a broad academic education, foundational military training and a deed of Commission from the Commander-in-Chief as the Patron of the Defence Academy. Services must be provided in subsequent military education at various accredited tertiary education institutions.

The constitutional requirement for a disciplined military force that aligns to the Constitutional Court’s disciplinary code was highlighted. The SANDF’s consequent military discipline and justice system must empower commanders to ensure discipline throughout the defence organisation.

A Defence Enterprise Information Management System exists that is aligned and speaks to the National Treasury Integrated Resource Management System. Delegations and accountability must run through the command line to the lowest level to provide for a comprehensive accountability model in accordance with the key pieces of legislation. This involves integrated information systems, command and control infrastructure, performance management (organisational performance, monitoring and evaluation), risk management, and the organisational structuring and establishment tables being implemented and maintained.

All resources were focused primarily on the preparation and provision of forces for military operations. Deployed forces would be sustained through the SANDF’s embedded support capabilities at the battalion, brigade and division levels. There must be an expeditionary projection and sustainment capability to support protracted operations in distant theatres. Forward-basing, the pre-positioning of forces and equipment, was required to effectively enhance the ongoing supply and support of deployed forces. Various priorities in terms of personnel, logistics, procurement and information and communication systems were listed, but not addressed during the meeting. The funding trajectory for the SANDF showed a marked decrease in the ratio it makes up of the South African budget.

Defence industry policy and strategy

The strategic inter-reliance between the SANDF and the defence Industry had to be strengthened. An acquisition policy and strategy was proposed to retain strategic technologies in critical niche areas. The Chief of the Defence Force provided guidance for capability renewal over the short, medium and long terms. The Minister had published a 10-year public high-level rolling capital plan to guide the industry’s investment. The success of the defence industry would hinge on its integration into mainstream South African industrial policy.

The role of the SANDF had changed from being that of a protector towards a wider application of being a strategic enabler and a catalyst for change where it was applied. The SANDF’s capability and capacity must ensure the defence of the Republic’s sovereignty, the protection of vital national interests, and be able to support multi-national interventions in Africa. Adopting the recommendations of the Defence Review was crucial to stabilise, restore and ensure the defence capability of the country.


Mr S Marais (DA) asked what the minus sign on the page dealing with defence capability meant.

The SANDF delegation answered that it showed that improvement must still be made in those areas in order to reach the targets set.

Co-chairperson Xaba asked in what year the defence development trajectory had been set.

Mr Sendel answered that it was set in 2013-2014, but the values given were in terms of the value of the rand during 2014-2015.

Mr Marais proposed that the Committee use the current meeting to give the SANDF an opportunity to present a proper, thorough and holistic overview of their presentation. Instead of rushing for time through the presentation in order to facilitate discussion with the MPs, a separate meeting could be scheduled to allow MPs to raise concerns and questions.

Co-chairperson Xaba agreed with the suggestion that the Committee should hold another session with the delegation from the SANDF to facilitate discussion and allow for questions by the Members. This was subsequently agreed to by the Members and the SANDF delegation.

Co-chairperson Xaba raised one concern that he would like the SANDF to address at their next engagement with the Committee. He referred to page 33 of the SANDF’s presentation, and questioned the reliability of the indicated totals of personnel within the SANDF. While it was acknowledged that the human resources (HR) total may be 83 000 people, the Committee wanted to know how many of these individuals were ready for immediate deployment, if necessary.

Mr Marais concurred with Co-chairperson Xaba’s concerns. He said the Committee needed to know exactly how many soldiers, reserve soldiers and members of civil society could be deployed immediately and were available should they be called upon.

Co-chairperson Xaba requested the SANDF to explore and prepare to engage with the Committee on this issue and questions by the Members during the next meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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