Letter from the President
The Joint Standing Committee on Defence met on a virtual platform for a briefing by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the Chief of Joint Operations. The meeting was requested for the Committee to receive a presentation of the letter from the President employing up to 1 495 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as part of Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission to Mozambique from 15 July 2021 to 15 October 2021. The expected expenditure amounted to R985 million.
The mission to Mozambique had been named Operation Vikela. The decision to deploy was taken by the SADC Heads of State and Government on 23 June 2021 in Maputo. Other SADC members states would also be part of the mission, notably Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana. The commencement of the operation had been delayed by the requirement that the host country, Mozambique, entered into a State of Forces Agreement with SADC and contributing countries before the forces could enter the country. Mozambique had a high level of insecurity in the North East of the country, Cabo Delgado, where the terrorist group of Al Sunnah wal Jama’ah had perpetrated acts of terror and violent extremism which could spill over the borders to surrounding countries. The military deployment would be in line with Scenario 6 of the African Union Peace Support Operation framework, which was the deployment of Rapid Deployment Capability for an initial three months, with possible follow up deployment under Scenario 5 which would be a multi-dimensional force.
Members were concerned that the Defence Force had entered Mozambique even before the President had signed the required letter informing Parliament of the employment of the Defence Force. Why was the letter dated 23 July 2021 although the troops had arrived in Mozambique on 19 July 2021? What was the current strength in Mozambique? If the Defence Force was not being deployed in terms of scenario 5, what was the purpose of all the equipment being transported to Mozambique? Were the soldiers going to work within their own forces, as in the DRC, or would it be a combined SADC force? The issues had started in 2017 with many people being killed, but nothing had been done until the present moment: what was the problem with SADC? What sort of weapons was Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah using? Was there enough air support transport should the need arise for rapid deployment in the DRC, Mozambique and in local operations? Did the Defence Force have equipment relevant to the mission in Mozambique? Was the mission linked to Operation Copper? Would the submarines deployed in the Mozambique Channel be able to respond and assist?
Members were anxious about funding. Would SA be compensated for operations by SADC? How and when would compensation be made? With budgetary processes about to begin, the Committee requested detailed information about the budgetary requirements of the Defence Force to be able to ensure that ground forces were fully protected. What equipment and how much money was needed to rejuvenate the Defence Force?
Co-Chairperson Xaba welcomed the Members to the meeting. It was a special meeting requested to receive a presentation of the letter from the President employing up to 1 495 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as part of Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission to Mozambique from 15 July 2021 to 15 October 2021. The expected expenditure amounted to R985 million. President Ramaphosa as the Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF had submitted the letter to Parliament regarding the deployment on 23 July 2021.
He informed Members that the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans was running about ten minutes late as she would be coming from another meeting.
Co-Chairperson Xaba had considered delaying the meeting until the Minister logged in as she would lead the presentation of the letter but he would first deal with the preliminaries. The presentation of the letter would be followed by a briefing by the Chief of SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, or Lt Gnl Siphiwe Sangweni, Chief: Joint Operations Division of the SANDF, who had been given the responsibility of managing operations. The SANDF Communications Officer and Parliamentary Liaison Officer were also in attendance.
The agenda showed only one substantive item, followed by questions. The agenda was accepted and the meeting was duly constituted.
Mr S Marais (DA) supported and accepted the agenda which reflected the intention of the meeting. Ms Bartlett (ANC) seconded the adoption of the agenda.
Co-Chairperson Xaba welcomed the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thabang Makwetla.
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, joined the meeting and Co-Chairperson Xaba welcomed her and invited her to present the letter from the President, to be followed by a briefing by the Chief of Defence.
Briefing by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans on the letter from the President re Mozambique
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula informed the Committee that the mission to Mozambique had been named Operation Vikela. The Joint Standing Committee on Defence was already in possession of the letter of notification in accordance with the Constitution section 201 which determined that Parliament must be informed of such deployment, when it would take place and the financial implications thereof. The President had signed letters to the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces as well as the Co-Chairpersons of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. The President’s minutes had also been signed, enabling the deployment to be underway.
The deployment of the members of the SANDF to Mozambique comprised a total strength of 1 495 personnel at a cost of R984 368 057. The deployment would be made up of various divisions of the SANDF. The decision to deploy was taken by the SADC Heads of State and Government on 23 June 2021 in Maputo. Other SADC member states would also be part of the mission, notably Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana. That would be in addition to the non-SADC states and some beyond the continent.
The deployment should have occurred some time ago, before the conflict had escalated to the level it had reached but, of critical importance, was satisfying the requirement that the host country, Mozambique, entered into a State of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with SADC and countries contributing to the mission.
She called on the Chief of SANDF to present a report on the deployment. It was not the final deployment plans but Parliament would be informed from time to time should the situation change.
Co-Chairperson Xaba invited the SANDF to present.
Briefing by the SANDF on the SADC mission to Mozambique
Lt Gnl Sangweni, Chief of Joint Operations, SANDF, made the presentation. He stated that the presentation confirmed what the Minister had told the Committee. Mozambique had a high level of insecurity in the North East of the country, Cabo Delgado, where the terrorist group Al Sunnah wal Jama’ah (ASWJ) had perpetrated acts of terror and violent extremism.
The military deployment would be in line with Scenario 6 of the African Union Peace Support Operation (AU PSO) framework, which was the deployment of Rapid Deployment Capability for an initial three months, with possible follow up deployment under Scenario 5 which would be a multi-dimensional force. The mission had been named Operation Vikela: Vikela means to protect.
Three SANDF officers would serve in the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) Regional Coordinating Mechanism; two officers would serve in the SAMIM as Force Commander and Chief of Staff and 10 officers had been appointed to serve in the SAMIM Force Headquarters as Staff officers. Scenario 6 would involve Maritime and Strategic Intelligence Force elements. The composite landward forces would be on standby for scenario 5.
Co-Chairperson Xaba thanked the General for the briefing. He summarised the deployment of SANDF personnel. 1 495 soldiers had been employed to Mozambique. Those soldiers added to the boots of those that were already part of SA obligations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the UN stabilisation mission, plus 200 members of the SANDF to the Mozambique Channel to prevent and deter piracy. In addition, the SANDF was deployed in Operation Prosper where the President had deployed up to 25 000 soldiers and in the standing deployment as part of Operation Corona for border safeguarding. 15 sub-units were participating in Operation Corona.
Co-Chairperson Xaba invited Members to engage with the briefing.
Mr S Marais (DA) thanked the Minister and General. He noted that the letter from the President had been dated 23 July 2021 but only included in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC) Order Papers of Parliament late on 27 July 2021, which was a week and a day after troops had arrived in Mozambique on 19 July 2021, which was general knowledge. Why was the letter dated 23 July 2021, and it had only been ATC’d on 27 July 2021, although the troops had arrived in Mozambique on 19 July 2021?
Mr Marais referred to Scenario 5 and Scenario 6 in the light of the fact that it was public knowledge that Botswana was sending 295 soldiers and Zimbabwe had confirmed that it was sending 300. Rwanda was sending 1 000 military personnel. Numbers were not confidential. Everyone knew that the convey that had travelled from SA to Mozambique was a lot more than required for 15 officers and that the Special Forces had arrived by air in Mozambique with their own equipment. The mission was supposedly still in scenario 6 but the huge convoys arriving in Mozambique looked like scenario 5. Where did SA actually stand? What was the current strength in Mozambique? If they were not being deployed in terms of scenario 5, what was the purpose of all the equipment being transported to Mozambique?
He added that the initial requirement was that SADC required at least one submarine and certain strength on the sea. SA only had the strike craft, basically a patrol vessel, with no capabilities for helicopters onboard. Could the SANDF elaborate on the figure and the numbers? Was the 1 495 the total composite land strength that would be deployed?
He added that there were only two months left for a mission costing close to R1 billion. Was the SANDF working, as in the DRC, on a deployment times three in terms of the total strength, i.e. was the total number of personnel in Mozambique going to be 1 495 divided by three, or was it 1 495 times three, or 1 495 times two?
Mr Marais stated that it was important to understand how the SANDF was going to work in relation to the Terms of Reference. Were the soldiers going to work within their own forces, as in the DRC, or would it be a combined SADC force? The Rwandan forces seemed to be operating independently and then there were the Mozambican forces that also seemed to operate independently. He requested permission to place additional questions later if those questions were not asked by other Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson asked the Minister to respond to the questions as it was possible that the replies would answer other questions.
The Minister pointed out that many questions raised were operational. She focussed on the date of the letter sent to the Speaker of the NA and Chairperson of the NCOP. It had been written and sent to Parliament on 23 July 2021. However, the SANDF group should have deployed to Mozambique on 15 July 2021 in response to the Heads of State decision of June 2021 but the team could not deploy to Mozambique until the host country had signed the SOFA in order to provide legal protection to the forces that were to assist the country. The SOFA was signed on 14 July, the eve of the intended deployment date.
She added that initially there was to have been a rapid deployment capability consisting of three countries, i.e. SA as force commander; Botswana deputising SA and the Chief of Staff was from SA but she could say how the numbers would be determined. It was possible that not all personnel were in Mozambique as yet. There had been a deployment of the first element, deployment of the second element and now the third element but the SANDF could provide the information.
The Minister was not aware of the convoys but the Chief of Joint Operations would have that information. C130s from Waterkloof Airport had been used for the first and second deployments, which had led to the pictures in the media.
Regarding the other soldiers in Mozambique, she reminded Members that SA was engaged in a SADC deployment, but that did not prevent Mozambique, as a sovereign state, from requesting another country outside SADC to deploy. Rwanda was there on the basis of a bi-lateral agreement with Mozambique. SADC had no role to play in respect of the agreement with Rwanda. The SA personnel were deployed as the SADC standby force. It had never deployed before but had engaged in exercises, so the forces understood one another and if there were other forces, the SADC forces would find ways to collaborate with them.
The Minister confirmed that Operations Corona and Prosper continued. The original number for internal employment was 25 000 and the papers submitted to Parliament showed 25 000. However, papers could be expected that would show the number would be reduced to 10 000 for troops as she believed it was only necessary for troops to stay in provinces where the situation was volatile, i.e. KwaZulu-Natal which had been a major site of violence, Western Cape, where there had been taxi violence, and Gauteng, which was quiet but which had experienced violence three weeks previously. The fact that there had been a deployment to Mozambique had definitely not compromised the ability of the SANDF to perform its duties.
Lt Gnl Sangweni explained that he could not give precise details of the total strength of the SANDF in Mozambique. That information could be given to Members in another forum but he was quite sure that Members were aware of the sensitivity of that information. Maritime elements, air assets and ground elements were deployed currently under scenario 6. It was in line with the approach of a rapid deployment capability and in line with approach of the Heads of State and Government of SADC.
He stated that all SADC member states were working together as they were deploying as part of a multi-national force. The same situation applied in the Republic of Congo where SANDF forces were working. SADC forces were working together with Mozambican forces as the host nation.
Mr D Ryder (DA; Gauteng) expressed his gratitude to the men and women representing SA in Mozambique and wished them a speedy and safe return. Regarding the expenditure incurred in an operation, he knew that when SA worked with the United Nations (UN), compensation funds were worked out based on a fairly complex formula. Would SA be compensated for operations by SADC? How and when would compensation be made? He requested that the details regarding compensation be provided to the Committee at a later stage.
Mr Ryder had heard that there had been quite a big contact within last three days where substantial success was reported by the SADC troops. Was there an update? Had that very successful operation had any impact on the time that troops would probably be spending in Mozambique? Had that contact possibly limited the deployment or would the troops still be there beyond the three-month period? Were the SANDF/SADC forces on the ground working with people who knew the territory well?
Mr W Mafanya (EFF) stated that the issue in Mozambique had started as early as 2017. The need for intervention had been highlighted in the Committee. However, it was only after the attack on Palma, when a number of foreigners, including a South African, had died that SADC was sensitised to it. His question was political. As a counterpart of Mozambique in SADC, SA had known since 2017 that people were being killed, but nothing was done until the present moment. What was the problem with SADC? Why had it not taken action? Insurrections were economically based. Whenever multi-nationals found resources, there were insurrections. Was it a case that when ordinary people died, it did not matter but an area had to be stabilised for the sake of resources or riches of the continent? That was an issue.
Mr Mafanya asked if the SA rapid deployment force was permanently in place. History would show that at some point, SA had delayed, instead of acting timeously, but he did not know the reason for that delay. Military intelligence was the key to informing the Minister, and the Committee, on the status and the weaponry that should be deployed. He asked what sort of weapons Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ), “or Al-Shabaab as the insurgents were commonly known,” was using and who was equipping the group. That information was necessary in order to stop them being equipped. Had SADC responded earlier, many lives could have been saved, and a lot of money.
Ms Beukes said that the Minister had already responded to two of her questions but she asked if there was enough air support transport should the need arise for rapid deployment in the DRC, Mozambique and in local operations.
Mr M Shelembe (DA) thought that a number of SA’s people, especially those situated along SA’s Mozambican borders would be happy to see the SANDF deployed to Mozambique. Many of those people had businesses across the border in Mozambique. As long as there had been no intervention in what was happening in Mozambique, it had been difficult for those people to continue investing and working in Mozambique.
Mr Shelembe asked if the costs of the operation would be paid back and, if so, how could the Committee see that the money expended had, indeed, been paid back? Was the money coming from SANDF’s own allocation or somewhere else, such as National Treasury? If it was own allocation money, how would that money be given back to the SANDF?
He asked who was to blame for the late deployment: was it because RSA had responded late or was it because the Mozambican government did not speed up the signing of SOFA? If any damage had been caused, Members had to know that it was not because the SANDF had not acted in time. Mr Mafanya had noted that the issue had started a long time ago in 2017 but action was only being taken at the current time. Who was responsible for that delay?
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng said that his connectivity was compromised and he had missed out on some questions. As the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, one of the Committee’s concerns was the safety of the men and women in camouflage. Did the SANDF have equipment relevant to the mission in Mozambique? Was the mission linked to Operation Copper? Would the submarines deployed in the Mozambique Channel be able to respond and assist?
He stated that he was not sure about the finances. Where would the nearly R1 billion come from? Was it from National Treasury or the Budget of the Department, or was it funding from the AU? He had seen SA troops moving into Mozambique on YouTube and social media and he recalled the acts of bravery by the SANDF during the floods in Mozambique and how men and women had done SA proud. He hoped it would again be the case.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng had noticed in the videos and photographs that vehicles in the convoy were carrying SA equipment but were not SANDF-branded vehicles. Was there a reason for that? The C10 had transported troops but was there any other air cover for the forces while they were there? He was happy if the Generals chose not respond to some of the questions as he understood that some might be sensitive.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) attempted to pose questions but experienced serious connectivity challenges.
Mr Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) had heard that the unstable conditions in Mozambique were as result of activity by Al Shabaab. Was the conflict about religious beliefs or about getting access to the gas being mined in the area?
The Minister responded to the question of compensation. It was not an AU or UN mission. However, SADC as a region had to fund its standby force. That Mozambique had known about the nature of the threat facing the country since 2017 was true, but Mozambique had only confirmed that threat with SADC in 2020. For that reason, one had seen a number of the meetings of the Troika where, firstly, Heads of Defence Forces, Ministers and then Heads of State had come together to discuss the challenges in Mozambique. Only in December 2020 was an extraordinary meeting of Heads of State of SADC convened to receive reports from the Heads of Defence. Based on that, the Troika had recommended to the Heads of State at the summit that there should be an intervention so that Mozambicans could feel safe. The Mozambicans had known of the problem for some time and the intelligence forces were aware of the problem, but SADC had to wait for the host country to acknowledge the problem and the nature of the problem before SADC could intervene.
The question by Mr Mafana about the availability of equipment required would be answered by the General but Ms Beukes had asked whether there were enough assets to service all obligations. The Defence Force did not have adequate assets but it had learnt to be agile and to manage with less. Whatever the obligation, the Defence Force had to find ways to meet that obligation, but the Minister freely admitted that the SANDF did not have sufficient assets.
Who was to blame for the delay in commencing the Operation? The Minister explained that when the Heads of State had taken the decision to deploy the forces, they had given the standby force a deadline of 15 July 2021, but the standby force could not deploy until Mozambique had signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the region; Mozambique did not sign until the evening of 14 July 2021. She noted that SA had been the first of the SADC forces to enter Mozambique, followed by Botswana.
Regarding the safety of the troops in the context of the equipment, she agreed that SA had limited equipment but no country could deploy forces without planning as the safety of the forces was paramount. SA had ensured the safety of its troops with thorough planning before entering Mozambique. She suspected that the convoys to Mozambique were carrying logistical supplies. In response to Inkosi Cebekhulu’s question about whether the conflict was religious or economic, she would say that it probably was both, but there were gas deposits in the area of conflict. Information had been received that some elements had been recruited by religious extremists and it could be that those extremists themselves were interested in the gas.
She assured the Committee that wherever the need arose for deployment, the operation was informed by intelligence. The intelligence from Mozambique would come from all the countries currently deployed in Mozambique. No operation was carried out without the necessary intelligence to inform the operation.
Lt Gnl Sangweni appreciated the encouraging words and sentiments of Mr Ryder and the Co-Chairperson in acknowledging that the SA forces were making sacrifices for peace in the region.
He added to the Minister’s response to Ms Beukes regarding air assets. SANDF needed more air support to fulfil its mandate to defend the sovereignty of the country, as well as for the secondary mandate of humanitarian assistance and to support other state departments at all times. The air assets of the military were multi-dimensional in peace time within the country to assist the people of the country. As seen during disasters of different magnitudes, the country needed more air support.
He confirmed, for Mr Ryder, that the SANDF was working with the Defence Force in Mozambique as well as the Police. It was procedural that when there were peace support operations, the host country carried on with its duties as it was a country in good standing. So, the Police and Defence Force in Mozambique were operational and the SANDF was working in collaboration with them.
Lt Gnl Sangweni hoped that three months would be enough for the situation to be stabilised and brought back to normality, but that would be determined by the situation on the ground. The Co-Chairperson had asked about Operation Copper and Lt Gnl Sangweni assured him that the mission followed the same lines as Operation Copper which was a SADC mission to patrol and control the Mozambique Channel. It was addressing criminalities and illegal activities at sea. All assets used in that operation, including the air assets could be utilised.
Mr Marais had a few additional questions. He understood the sensitivities of operational matters but the Committee was approaching a Budget Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) process, so the Committee had to have a process to fully understand the needs of land work, air and maritime. The report on
Operation Prosper had shown that certain elements had to be taken forward and the Committee should use the BRRR to do that. If the R1 billion (for Operation Vikela) was to be refunded, then investments had to be made to keep soldiers safe on the ground and information was needed to do that. For example, if the SANDF needed two frigates but only had one, that had to be budgeted for. Likewise, if the SANDF needed Rooivalks in Mozambique but could only afford Impala, funds should be requested for that purpose. He requested the Chairperson, the Minister and the Chief Joint Operations to find a mechanism whereby the Committee could obtain information to inform budget requests.
He noted that a peace-keeping mission, as in the DRC, was not a two to three months operation, but there had been no feedback on that as to whether it was a temporary intervention or whether it was going to be a long-term process.
Mr Marais stressed that more information was needed. For example, Members needed to know if the number 1 495 (personnel) was times three or whether it was a different figure. The number of personnel engaged in Operation Corona and the DRC had been shared but it seemed details about Mozambique were sensitive at that stage, although he did not know why it was so sensitive. Was there a larger threat to SA’s Northern borders? Were the 15 companies on the border sufficient to protect the country? Could something flow over into SA? In such a case there had to be a wall of defence on the land borders.
The Chairperson remarked that it was critical that the threat was contained in Mozambique before it spilled over Mozambique’s borders to the surrounding countries, SA being one of the countries that shared borders with Mozambique. It was a real threat and the Committee would support any intervention to suppress the situation.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) made a brief input (The input was not in English. Check video).
The Minister informed Mr Marais that Mr Ryder and Mr Shelembe had raised the issue of budget and she had said that all resources came from SADC. The mission was not funded by SA because it was a SADC mission. She wished to clarify the point, so that it was clear that the SANDF was spending the money allocated to SA for the operation. No one should, in the future, look for a repayment to the SANDF of R1 billion. Constitutionally, the President was obliged to inform Parliament of the costs of any operation, but the costs were not borne by SA in that case.
Lt Gnl Sangweni said he could respond in Zulu but not in Setswana. He said that he was putting a plea to South Africans through the parliamentarians to rejuvenate the SANDF. There was an urgent need to support the SANDF. It was known that SANDF was required to support South Africans in times of need. At that stage, it was known that the SANDF was not at the required capacity to perform its functions. The SANDF was trying hard to rejuvenate and he hoped that the Joint Standing Committee would motivate all South Africans to support the rejuvenation of the SANDF.
The Chairperson asked Members if they supported the steps taken by the President and other Heads of State in the Region to deal with the threat to the countries in the region right at source. He had not heard any objections.
Mr Marais agreed fully, which was why he asked about equipment, such as the use of the Rooivalk as it had been used incredibly successfully in the DRC. He fully supported the Chairperson in stating that the Committee could support the decisions taken in respect of SAMIM. Information was needed to push the budget.
The Chairperson noted that he had heard good news about the boots on the ground getting on top of the situation and of good collaboration between forces.
Co-Chairperson Xaba noted that the Committee supported the President, the Minister and the SANDF. He thanked everyone, particularly the Minister and the General and declared the meeting adjourned.
The meeting was adjourned.
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