ATC170515: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on its 1 March 2017 oversight visit to Silvermine Naval Base, dated 15 May 2017

Defence and Military Veterans

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on its 1 March 2017 oversight visit to Silvermine Naval Base, dated 15 May 2017.


The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV) conducted an oversight visit to Silvermine Naval Base as part of its oversight responsibilities over the SA Navy as an Arm of Service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in general, and one of its bases, Silvermine Naval Base, in particular. This formed part of the Committee’s Parliamentary Oversight programme and took place during Parliament’s oversight week.


1.1        Purpose of the oversight visit

The purpose of the oversight visit was for the Committee to be briefed on the functioning of the Naval Communication Centre Cape (NCC) at Silvermine and be updated on its status and level of preparation. The visit was motivated by the widely reported theft of copper cables at the base which has the potential to impact negatively on the SA Navy’s communications capabilities.


1.2        Committee Members and support staff

The Delegation comprised of the following people:

Members of the Committee:

Hon. M.S. Motimele                                           Chairperson

Hon. N.A. Mnisi                                     Committee Member

Hon N Dambuza                                                Committee Member

Hon B. T. Bongo                                               Committee Member

Hon. S. Esau                                                    Committee Member

Hon. S. Marais                                      Committee Member

Hon L.S. Tlhaole                                                Committee Member


Support Staff:

Peter Daniels                                        -           Committee Content Advisor

Calvin Manganyi                                                Content Advisor: Joint Standing Committee on Defence

Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg                 -           Researcher: Joint Standing Committee on Defence

Mandy Balie                                                      Committee Secretary

Alutho Nwandla                         -           Committee Assistant

Peter Nkabinde                                     Department of Defence: Parliamentary Liaison Officer

SA Navy representatives:

Rear Admiral Bubele (Bravo) Mhlana                   Flag Officer Fleet

Rear Admiral (JG) Solly Petersen                                   Director Fleet Force Preparation

Commander M.P. Selala                                                Staff Officer Communications Fleet.



The base is situated in the Southern suburb of Tokai in the City of Cape Town and houses inter alia the SA Navy Hydrographic Office (SANHO), the Joint Tactical Headquarters Western Cape, the Maritime Air Radio Organisation, the Naval Coordination and Guidance for Shipping of the SA Navy, and the Naval Communication Centre Cape (NCC). The Delegation was briefed by Rear Admiral Bubele (Bravo) Mhlana, the Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral (JG) Solly Petersen, the Director Fleet Force Preparation and Commander M.P. Selala, the Staff Officer Communications Fleet.






2.1        Presentation

The presentation commenced with an overview of the facilities housed at Silvermine. The primary aim of the NCC is to receive the bulk of the SA Navy’s High Frequency and Low Frequency Strategic Tactical Radio Communications. This is done, in part, through the Lower Antenna Farm, which is situated within the unit perimeters, and the Upper Antenna Farm, situated on the hillside within a nature reserve. The presentation further covered the scope which included a background and overview, the services provided by the Naval Communication Centre (NCC), the sub-systems of the NCC for Communication, challenges at the NCC, Copper theft, fencing conditions and mitigating strategies.

The challenges experienced at the NCC include degrading facilities, the lack of funding for intruder monitoring surveillance systems in all remote areas, and the cutting of alien vegetation. There were two reported cases of copper cable theft since January 2017.  Photos were also shown of perimeter fences being pushed over by vegetation, perimeter fence gates being missing, and diamond mesh being cut open for unauthorised access, etc.

The mitigation strategies proposed by the SA Navy include:

  • Proper fencing as per the Department of Public Works (DPW) specifications project. The completion of this project was compromised due to  tender irregularities which resulted in the fencing project not being completed in 2015 as originally planned.
  • Monitoring surveillance systems in especially remote areas.
  • Patrols including at access control, roving patrols and dog handlers.


2.2        Tour of facilities

The Committee visited the Lower Antenna Farm where it observed first-hand the damage done to the infrastructure and where cables were stolen. Given that the cables were housed in shallow trenches, it was easy to pull it out of the trenches. Other stolen items include copper ground plane wires, antenna feeder cables stripped of its copper properties, and antenna feeder cable cut-offs. Photos were also shown of perimeter fences being pushed over by vegetation, perimeter fence gates being missing, and diamond mesh being cut open for unauthorised access.




The following observations were made by Members of the Committee:

  • The current technology to safeguard the facility is insufficient and while the Committee cannot “instruct” the Department what to do, it will be engaging with the procurement challenges of the Department in order to take this matter further.
  • It was suggested that the Committee engage Chief Logistics about the importance and need to improve the security at this strategic facility.
  • Given that DPW plays a central role in these processes, it was suggested that the Committee should have a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Public Works to share its frustrations regarding these challenges, as this project inter alia deals with sensitive issues such as the security of the country. The significant delays since 2015 to finalise the fencing project is of particular concern.
  • The Committee has witnessed at 1 Military Hospital and other units what the Defence Works Formation is capable of doing and wanted to know whether they can be involved to help to save costs.
  • Various options to improve the security at the facility were discussed, including improvement in lighting, movement detection, limit access to certain people, proper fencing, etc.
  • Given the centrality and importance of the NCC, it should be considered as a National Key Point (NKP) and be funded accordingly to protect it. The Naval representatives agreed that if classified as a NKP, they might not have these challenges with theft and funding.
  • The Committee was concerned about the theft of copper cables at such a significant strategic facility and wanted to know whether this has been escalated to higher levels. The response was that it was reported through the normal chain of command and that the next higher levels are aware of the situation.
  • The Committee supported the view that security should be upgraded at the facility and stated that it will assist the Navy through its interaction with the Minister and the Accounting Officer. The Naval representatives appreciated the support and assured the Committee they will, from their side, do their best, but with limited funds their hands are tied, hence the appreciation for the Committee’s understanding and undertaking to engage the Minister and Accounting officer.
  • Given that there is a concern about the natural environment, the Committee wanted to know whether a proper Environmental Impact Assessment was done and if the surrounding community was acknowledged in these processes. The response was that this is the responsibility of DPW and it was believed that they followed the necessary processes.
  • The Committee was of the opinion that the Navy has the right to remove the alien vegetation but that it should consult with the City of Cape Town as well as the SA National Parks which is responsible for the nature reserve around Silvermine Naval Base. The SA Navy responded that there is also protected fauna and that they will utilise their environmental officers to assist them in this process.



The following recommendations were made by the Committee:

  • The procurement challenges need to be addressed to improve the security at this strategic facility which the Committee feels should have the status of a National Key Point. The Committee will take this matter up with the Department and the Chief of Logistics in particular.
  • The Committee should schedule a meeting with the Department of Public Works to raise their concerns regarding the upgrading of the security arrangements at the facility specifically and other related issues.
  • The involvement of the Defence Works Formation should also be considered in the upgrading of infrastructure as part of addressing the security issues at the facility, given that the Formation will be able to save costs if they are utilised as well as being able to respond quicker than DPW.
  • The Committee will follow up with the Secretary for Defence and Chief of the Navy whether the challenges have been brought to their attention and their responses to it.
  • The SA Navy is required to follow the guidelines for the protection of the natural environment, which include engaging the relevant stakeholders, especially the local communities and was encouraged to address these restrictions to protect the indigenous fauna.

Report to be considered



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