SANDF Deployment (Operation Thiba); Committee Programme, Annual Report & Legacy Report


22 February 2024
Chairperson: National Assembly – Mr V Xaba (ANC) and Co-Chairperson: National Council of Provinces – Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary


The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (the JSCD) convened virtually to consider the deployment of South African Defence Force members to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under Operation THIBA.

The deployment of 2 900 soldiers on a Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission to restore peace and security in the DRC was met with concerns for various reasons. The operation is reported to be unfunded in the 2023/24 financial year although statements from both the Minister and the President suggested that soldiers would be fully supported and resourced. The costs related to Operation THIBA were estimated at R2.4 billion up to the end of 2024. The Committee was assured that National Treasury would be providing assistance for the DRC mission.

The deployment was made in terms of a SADC decision but 60% of the 5 000 members deployed came from South Africa, which is the most southern nation to the DRC. Other than Tanzania and Malawi who were present in the mission area, none of the immediate DRC neighbouring countries, had been contributing to the mission. The Committee was advised that other member states would be joining the operation as the mission progresses.

Concerns were raised by some Committee Members about having to read in the media about the deployment to the DRC and the unfortunate death of two soldiers. The delay in the JSCD being informed of the mission came under scrutiny. The President is constitutionally obligated to advise Parliament expeditiously within 14 days after a decision is made. The Presidential Letter of Employment is dated 12 December 2023 but the Committee received notice of Operation THIBA on 14 February 2024, two months after the mission had started. It was suggested that Parliamentary Legal Advisors be consulted on how to deal with the matter. The Committee resolved to obtain reasons for the delay from the Office of the Speaker and to include the matter in the Legacy Report.

The Committee adopted the JSCD 2024 First Term Programme, the 2023 Annual Report, and the first draft of the Legacy Report.

Meeting report

Co-chairperson Xaba said the agenda items would flow from the adoption of the First Term Programme. The programme was presented for consideration and thereafter duly adopted.

Co-chairperson Xaba noted the apology from the Deputy Minister who was attending a National Executive Committee meeting and the Minister who was visiting the families of the two fallen soldiers. He said the Committee had not been briefed on the incident. He requested the Chief of Staff and the acting Secretary of Defence to share detail of the funeral arrangements for colleagues who might want to be part of the ceremony to bid the soldiers farewell.

Mr S Marais (DA) sought clarity whether all members of the Portfolio Committee were also members of the JSCD.

Co-chairperson Xaba said membership to committees was not automatic but the ANC took a considered view that their members would participate in both committees.

Mr Marais said Mr Bond is a member of the Portfolio Committee but had not received an invitation to the JSCD.

Co-chairperson Xaba requested the Committee Secretary, Ms Nandipha Maxhegwana, to check if it was an omission on the part of the Administration.

Dr Thobekile Gamede, Acting Secretary of Defence (SecDef), DOD, said the Chief of the Defence Force was not available due to pressing deployment matters. She was accompanied by the Chief Joint Operations (CJOPS)and the Acting Chief Financial Officer for the presentation of the Presidential Employment Letter. She indicated that some issues might be of a sensitive nature and would require a close session to prevent placing soldiers in a vulnerable position.

Mr Marais concurred that a closed session would be necessary because questions of a sensitive nature might be asked. He sought clarity if a request for a closed session should only come from the JSCD or if the SANDF could also make such a request.

Co-chairperson Xaba replied that he would be guided by the tone of the presentation. In the past, the content of the Presidential Employment Letter was limited to legislative requirements, i.e. Parliament must be informed of the reasons for the deployment, the number of people involved, and the expected and actual expenditure. A close session might be needed if more information is required. Members should be mindful of the manner they pose questions. Both himself and the SecDef were making the request for a closed meeting. A suitable date needed to be agreed on. He called on the Chief of Staff to comment.

Lt Gen Michael Ramantswana, Chief of Staff, SANDF, thanked Members for their empathy and for understanding the sensitivity around the issue. He would be assisting the CJOPS with the responses after the presentation.

SANDF Report on the Presidential Employment Letter
Lt Gen Sipgiwe.Lucky Sangweni, CJOPS, SANDF, said the Presidential Letter of Authority provided some detail on how the President arrived at his decision to employ the SANDF to the Southern Development Community Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (SAMIDRC). The SANDF code name for the SAMIDRC deployment is Operation THIBA. Thiba means to prevent or to block. The head of states and government of the SADC Organ on politics, defence, and security affairs made a collective decision in May 2023, to support the government of the DRC against activities of armed groups, especially the resurgence of the M23 armed group operating in the eastern DRC region.

2 900 SANDF members would be deployed to the SAMIDRC as South Africa’s contribution to the SADC effort to support the DRC. The deployment would be for a period of 12 months, i.e. from 15 December 2023 to 15 December 2024. The estimated cost of R2 371 billion is unfunded in the 2023/24 financial year and is considered unforeseen and unavoidable.

(See Presentation)

Mr Marais noted that the deployment was made in terms of a SADC decision but 60% of the 5 000 members deployed came from South Africa which is the most southern nation to the DRC. None of the immediate neighbouring countries, which have more of a national interest than South Africa, had been contributing to the mission. He said both the Minister and the President made statements that soldiers would be fully supported and resourced. This was in contrast to the report indicating that the mission was unfunded. He enquired about the steps that would be taken to ensure that soldiers would be fully resourced. He did not believe that the expenditure was unavoidable given the challenges with resources over the last year. He read in the media that chartered aircraft was being used for logistical support. The SANDF lost an Oryx earlier this month and the remaining helicopter was due for service. He asked how the lack of operational aircraft would impact resourcing soldiers and not put them in a vulnerable situation.

Co-chairperson Xaba cautioned that the capabilities of the SANDF should be discussed in the closed meeting. He agreed that it was important for the JSCD to know if the soldiers were being supported.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) wanted to know how the crime prevention wardens, referred to as Amapanyaza, got access to the military base in Tshwane where they have been receiving military training and if they were part of the army. He asked what would happen to South Africans who joined the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in Israel to participate in the killing of people.

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) raised concerns about the budgetary and capacity issues of Operation THIBA. Further discussions on an appropriate platform were urgently needed. In terms of the process, the President is required to advise Parliament expeditiously within 14 days. The letter is dated mid-December 2023 but the Committee received notice on 14 February 2024 and was now dealing with the matter two months after the mission had started. Members became aware of the deployment and the death of the two soldiers through the media. He proposed that the Commander in Chief should be summoned and questioned on why he was not empowering the Committee to execute its constitutional mandate. The troops died on his word and without the Committee’s decision.

Co-chairperson Xaba said the letter is dated 12 December 2023, authorising the deployment to start on 15 December 2023 until 15 December 2024. According to the note received, Parliament received the letter on 22 December 2023 and was notified in February 2024. The delay was therefore not due to the Department or the President considering that the letter was signed on 21 December 2023 and received by Parliament on 22 December 2023 but only notified on 15 February 2024.

Dr Gamede replied to Mr Motsamai that the Defence Force does provide non-military training as part of the developmental agenda. Facilities are provided in terms of the non-military model dealing with discipline. The Defence Force does participate in general development similar to building bridges when required. On the issue of South Africans joining the IDF, she said an application through the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is required. The government cannot be held responsible for people who participate in combat as mercenaries.

Co-chairperson Xaba said foreign military assistance by South African citizens is regulated in terms of section 3 of the Regulations of Foreign Military Assistance Act, 15 of 1998. Rendering of services is prohibited unless authorised by the Minister of Defence and by the NCACC in terms of sections 4 and 5 of the Act. Section 6 of the Act stipulates that Parliament and the Committees of Defence should be provided with a report on applications for foreign military assistance. In the last five years, the Committee had not been provided with a register of authorisation and approvals for rendering assistance to any foreign Defence Force. He would be posing a question about the register to the Minister of Defence at an appropriate time.

Lt Gen Sangweni said the narrative raised by Mr Ryder was not new. The information provided in the report on the Presidential Letter was in response to a previous request made by the Committee. He replied to Mr Marais that Tanzania and Malawi were presently in the mission area and other member states would join the operation as the mission progresses. In terms of addressing the impact of the shortcomings, he understood that it was part of the oversight responsibility of the JSCD to assist with issues that the DOD was struggling with. This presentation to the JSCD was part of the steps taken by the DOD.

Mr Ryder said the President is constitutionally mandated to meet with the JSCD expeditiously within 14 days. The responsibility is vested in the President to inform and involve the JSCD.

Co-chairperson Xaba said the 1996 Constitution is worded differently but he accepted that some provisions might conflate with each other. He agreed that the President has the duty to inform Parliament through the appropriate channels to enable the JSCD to act on the matter. He did not see the need to summon the President.

Mr Marais shared Mr Ryder’s concerns. If the President is obligated by the Constitution, then the JSCD should know how to deal with the matter because it is expected to do oversight. The JSCD was only notified two months after the deployment. It was not fair for Members to read about the deployment in the media. It was not the intention to have a confrontation with the President but the JSCD is mandated to do proper oversight. He proposed that the matter be included in the Legacy Report.

Mr Mmutle cautioned that the reasons for the delay should be investigated before holding the President and the Office of the Speaker to account. Meanwhile, the Committee should obtain legal advice on how it should deal with the reasons when it is provided. He agreed that it was not correct to have discussions two months after deployment.

Co-chairperson Xaba said he would enquire from the Administration in Parliament. He agreed that the delay between the receipt of the letter and informing the JSCD was unacceptable but he disagreed with being summoned by the President. The JSCD acted as soon as the letter was received. He proposed that the provisions of the interim and 96 Constitution should be harmonised to prevent unnecessary tensions.

Mr Ryder said both Mr Mmutle and Mr Marais suggested that a legal opinion should be obtained which he regarded as appropriate. The Chairperson had the right to interpret the Constitution for himself but as the Committee, he suggested that the Parliamentary Legal Advisors should attend the next meeting for this discussion and to advise whether the President should summon the JSCD. This would inform the Legacy Report so that the matter can be handled correctly in future.

Co-chairperson Xaba disagreed with Mr Ryder’s suggestion about being summoned.

Mr Ryder said he could not be part of a committee that was acting in contradiction with the Constitution. He asked to be excused and then left the platform.

Mr Marais said the Defence Force was having enormous support challenges in terms of logistics, equipment and the budget. The earliest possible time to get more money would be in October 2024 which meant the operation would be unfunded for at least six months. He said the CJOPS cannot pass the buck to the JSCD. Members should be provided with the information, even if in another forum, because everyone was aware that the money was not available, and that a helicopter and two lives were lost. The role of the JSCD was to do oversight and the duty of the CJOPS is to report on questions and concerns.

Co-chairperson Xaba asked if it would not be better for either the SecDef or the acting CFO to respond to the budget question given that the allocation would only happen in October 2023.

Mr Marais said the Chairperson should not be asking the SecDef to answer a question that he had not posed and that the Chairperson had changed.

Co-chairperson Xaba asked Mr Marais to be patient as he was not done making his comments. He invited the acting CFO and SecDef to respond to Mr Marais’ question.

Ms M Bartlett (ANC, Northern Cape) expressed her unhappiness with how Mr Marais was interjecting the speech of the Chairperson. She asked that both Mr Marais and Mr Ryder show respect to the Chairperson.

Mr M Shelembe (DA) said the Chairperson was capable of chairing the meeting and did not need assistance.

Co-chairperson Xaba said he was surprised at the behaviour of the DA.

Mr Marais did not appreciate the utterance made by the Chairperson.

Mr Motsamai said the ANC and the DA were planning to join in a coalition but their behaviour in this meeting was problematic. The marriage between the ANC and DA was not going well.

Mr Shelembe drew attention to the mess that the EFF created in Parliament the previous day.

Ms N Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) appealed to Members to listen to each other and to have respect when others are speaking.

Mr Mmutle said the disagreement was unfortunate. He felt that the Chairperson might have gone a bit overboard when he was referring to DA Members. Matters should be approached in a non-partisan manner. He called on Members to calm down and focus on the subject at hand. He agreed that the provisions for a summons should not apply. It was a question of misinterpreting the law. It was unfortunate that Members felt disempowered to explain their own understanding or interpretation of the provisions of the Act.

Co-chairperson Xaba felt that the discussion had been side-tracked on an issue not related to the presentation.

Dr Gamede undertook to return to the JSCD after the budget had been analysed. The CJOPS is responsible for operational matters while the enabling part should come from the SecDef. The departmental Planning and Budget Committee reviews all requirements at the end of the financial year. Requirements from the CJOPS are prioritised. He is not expected to answer questions related to the budget. She was optimistic that National Treasury would provide assistance for the DRC mission. It was premature to ask about steps to be taken at this point.

Co-chairperson Xaba thanked the SecDef and her team. He would inform them of the next meeting.

2024 First Term Programme
The Chairperson presented the First Term Programme for consideration. The programme included the agenda items for the period 30 January 2024 to 28 March 2024. He suggested that a date for a closed meeting should be found during this period.

Mr Marais said the update by the Defence Secretariat scheduled for 7 March 2024 would be critical. A compromise was necessary to make provision for the closed meeting. The JSCD is being confronted with a number of issues which must be discussed with the SANDF leadership.

Mr Mmutle agreed that a suitable date and venue should be agreed with the Department.

Co-chairperson Xaba was considering having the meeting on a Friday which meant that a Thursday meeting would have to be forfeited due to travelling arrangements.

Mr Mmutle said if 1 March 2023 was chosen for the closed meeting, then the meeting with the Military Ombud scheduled for 29 February 2024 could be rescheduled for either 7 or 14 March 2024.

The programme was provisionally adopted, depending on the Chairperson finding a date for the closed meeting.

2023 Annual Report
Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Committee Content Advisor, presented the Draft Annual Report on the activities of the JSCD for the period January 2023 to December 2023. Following is a summary of the key activities during the reporting period:

Monitoring the morale and functioning of the SANDF;

Motivating for the allocation of additional funding for SANDF deployments;

Assessing the declining status of prime-mission equipment, including maintenance contracts and spares procurement;

Considering Presidential Letters of deployment of the SANDF, focussing on SANDF readiness;
Engaging the SANDF Chief of Human Resources on succession planning and rejuvenation of the Regular and Reserve Forces; and

Quarterly engagements with the NCAAC on the regulation of armaments imports and exports.

Co-chairperson Xaba asked the Co-Chairperson for his comment on the activities that had been highlighted in the Annual Report.

Co-chairperson Nchabeleng said the report is detailed in terms of all the activities and challenges. He noted that the JSCD had performed well in terms of the number of meetings compared to previous years.

Mr Marais agreed that the report is thorough and well drafted. The staff had done the Members proud.

Ms Mothapo commended the Secretariat for the well-prepared report.

The report was adopted.

First draft Legacy Report
Dr Janse van Rensburg said the draft Legacy Report was an introduction and not up for adoption. The content of the report represented a reflection on activities over a longer period, i.e. May 2019 to March 2024. Following is a brief summary of the key focus areas during the 6th Parliament:

Consideration of the Presidential Letters of deployment;

Oversight of SANDF deployments, including regular updates on border safeguarding deployments;

Oversight of SANDF prime-mission equipment and related matters, including engagements with Armscor and Denel;

Oversight of SANDF Force Design and Structure, including engagements with external specialists and DOD meetings;

Engagements with the Military Ombud on its support to the SANDF; and

Engagements with the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) on its support to the DOD.

Dr Janse van Rensburg proposed that Members submit written input for incorporation into the report by 10 March 2024.

Co-chairperson Xaba said if Members accepted the proposal, then the date for submission of written comments is set for 10 March 2024.

Mr Marais agreed to the proposal and said the staff had done wonderful work, although it was still a work in progress.

Co-chairperson Xaba reminded the meeting that 29 February 2024 was the date for submission of written comments on the Portfolio Committee Legacy Report. He thanked the staff for the comprehensive report.

Adoption of minutes
The Committee adopted the minutes dated 23 November 2023 without amendments.

Dr Janse van Rensburg sought confirmation about the date for the closed meeting.

Co-chairperson Xaba said he would provide confirmation at a later stage.

The meeting was adjourned.


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