Castle Management change: Discusssion; SA Army Seminar 21: Report Back

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Defence and Military Veterans

05 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr F Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee engaged in discussion over the proposed transfer of the Castle of Good Hope’s management and administration from the Department of Defence to the Department of Arts and Culture. Concerns were raised that in doing so, similar problems would be faced as with the running of Robben Island at present. A further concern was that placing the Castle in the hands of the Department of Arts and Culture would be eroding the institution’s military heritage. Members felt that it should remain with the Department of Defence.

A report-back was given by members who had attended the SA Army Seminar 21, a February conference with the theme: An SA Army Relevant and Ready for Future Security Challenges in Africa.

The Committee decided that the Minister and the Secretary of Defence needed to address the Committee on a number of their concerns pertaining to Defence

Meeting report

Transfer of Castle of Good Hope management to Department of Arts and Culture
The Chair said that committee members had concerns about the transition of the Castle of Good Hope from the control of the Department of Defence to the Department of Arts and Culture. All government property was in the hands of the Department of Public Works. The Department of Public Works together with the Department of Arts and Culture would absorb the transition in administration.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) pointed out that military hospitals managed by the Department of Public Works were in a dire state.

Mr Bhengu said that state assets were in the hands of the Department of Public Works and suggested that perhaps Public Works should be called upon to address the Committee.

Mr M Booi (ANC) emphasised the historical importance of military buildings like the Castle of Good Hope. Even if the handover took place, Parliament should have a policy about the issue. In many instances when transfers between departments took place, assets would inevitably disappear. He felt that the Castle was part of SA’s military history and should remain with Defence. Why the need for Arts and Culture to take care of it? These were matters that Parliament needed to consider in drafting legislation. Administrative matters could be sorted out later.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) suggested that the Committee request the Castle Control Board to address the Committee on why the Castle could not be managed properly and what informed the need for it to be transferred to the Department of Arts and Culture. The answer would give the Committee some clarity on the matter.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) agreed that the Committee needed to be properly informed.

Dr M Schoemann (ANC) said that the handover could not be allowed unless it was going to be an improvement. He noted that in England the Edinburgh Castle and the Tower of London, both historical military monuments, remained under the control of the military. The handover decision should therefore be carefully considered.

Mr Booi stated that Robben Island was in a financial crisis. He was concerned that the Castle of Good Hope would share the same fate. He noted that the reasoning behind the handover was financial whilst the historical military importance of it was forgotten. Mr Booi reiterated that Parliament needed to have a policy on these issues. History and politics must be taken into consideration.

The Chair understood the point Mr Booi was making. He asked how could a joint management effort between the Departments of Defence, Public Works and Arts and Culture be put together. Mr Bhengu stated that the dire financial state of affairs of Robben Island reflected a weakness in the Department of Arts and Culture. The Chair noted that in the past the future of military bases and such were left to chance. It was the duty of the Committee to inform government on what needed to be done about military structures.

Dr S Pheko (PACA) felt that preserving military history was important.

Mr Fihla (ANC) gave the Committee an account of a visit he had made to Robben Island. He had found to his shock that the quarry in which political prisoners were forced to work, had been covered up. It was part of history and should be displayed as a remembrance to those who had suffered in it. 

Dr Koornhof stated that the Castle was also filled with historical artifacts. There were valuable paintings and worldwide military artifacts on display. The Committee needed to apply its mind carefully in dealing with the legislation. The legislation might seem simple at first glance.
Engagement at a deeper level was required before a decision could be made.

The Chair agreed that the Committee would take its time on the issue. Mr Monareng added that the Committee needed to apply its mind properly.

Mr Booi said that the point he was trying to make was one of principle. A policy decision needed to be made. The challenge was to preserve SA’s military history. He noted that nobody prioritises Defence, hence there was a need to build the image of Defence. Defence was only remembered for the much publicised arms deal.

Mr L Diale (ANC) asked for a timeframe for the Minister and the Secretary of Defence to address the Committee on the issue.

The Chair noted that the question was what the Committee was to bring before the House for debate. The issue at hand was a major one, which affected SA’s history. The debate needed to be a comprehensive one.

Dr Schoemann said that if there were things at Robben Island that were not representative of its history, these should be corrected. Researchers should speak to those who were imprisoned there during the apartheid years in order to rectify things.

Mr Ntuli said that perhaps caricatures could be used at Robben Island to illustrate what had happened in the past.

Mr Booi stated that the Committee was yet to engage in an internal debate over heritage. The upkeep of Robben Island was under-funded and the Department of Arts and Culture found it hard to cope. The Committee should be conscious of the fact that it was writing itself out of history.

The Chair confirmed that the Bill would be properly scrutinised. Some of the issues raised were broad and perhaps required joint meetings between Arts and Culture, Defence and Public Works.

SA Army Seminar 21: SA Army Relevant & Ready for Future Security Challenges in Africa
Mr Ntuli and Dr Koornhof gave a report-back on the conference that they had attended in February. Mr Ntuli said that its aim was to understand the contemporary security challenges in Africa and the implications for the SA Army. There was a real concern over the vulnerability of African states to crisis. Even though the African Union had created several mechanisms for conflict resolution, armed conflicts nevertheless occurred.

Case studies from countries such as Netherlands, Nigeria and Sierra Leone were set out. The prioritisation of security in Africa was considered. The army had evaluated its arsenal and postulated what it would look like in the future. The thrust of the presentation on weapons was to illustrate how modern warfare took place. Issues of training and funding had also been discussed.    

Dr Koornhof continued, saying that there were a total of 24 lectures over three days. It was a strategic seminar for the army and gave insight into the vision of the army. The conference was well attended by Southern African Development Community (SADC) states, other African states and countries further abroad.

Dr Koornhof explained that a written report on the conference would be given to the Committee by the following week. Certain recommendations would be made to the Committee. The SA Army should give a presentation to the Committee on the state of the army. The Committee should be furnished with timelines on a Defence update as the last one was done in 2001. The 1998 White Paper on Defence needed to be updated. There was also a need for a national consensus on defence.

Mr Booi said that the Army had made reference to a 2020 Plan. The plan was yet to be presented to Parliament. He also noted that the Air Force and the Navy had been capacitated by the arms deal but what about the army? The army was in a dire state and needed an intervention from Parliament. A policy was needed on this. Members of Parliament remained uninformed on army matters. The seminar was a good eye opener. The same concerns could be raised about the Air Force and the Navy. He asked what were they doing with the equipment that was given to them in the arms deal. Mr Booi felt that the Committee needed to ask itself questions relating to Defence.

Mr Monareng appreciated the input made on the seminar. He noted that there should be an integrated SANDF comprising all the forces. In this way when funds were allocated it could be distributed to where it was needed.

Mr Pheko said that many issues had been raised in the meeting. He suggested that perhaps for continuity purposes, the issues should be recorded, as in 2009 there might be a different Defence Portfolio Committee that would have to deal with the issues.

The Chair said that the current Parliament would refer issues to the new Parliament when the time arrived.

Mr Booi said that the Committee needed to ask the Executive to update its Defence policy as the current policy was five years old. The Committee should begin to ask more questions.

Mr Ntuli said that succession plans in the military also needed to be discussed by the Committee as well as the matter of the veterans.

The Chair realised that the Committee had challenges. The issue was about how the Committee intended to move forward. How would the Committee follow up on issues that had been tabled in Parliament? Mr Bhengu said that it was a matter of urgency that the Minister and the Secretary of Defence be asked to address the Committee on the issues that had been raised in the meeting.

Mr Booi asked that committee researchers compile all the issues that needed addressing when the Minister and the Secretary of Defence came before the Committee.

Meeting adjourned.


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