ATC201203: Report of the Mini-Symposium of Joint Standing Committee on Defence with Invited Experts on 3 September 2020, Dated 19 November 2020




1.         Introduction


The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) conducted a Mini-symposium with three invited speakers namely Prof Lindy Heinecken, Dr Moses Khanyile and Mr Helmoed-Romer Heitman on 3 September 2020, on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF)’s Force Design and Related Matters. This formed part of the Committee’s Parliamentary programme in exercising oversight over the Department of Defence and Military Veterans.


1.1        Purpose of the Mini-symposium


The mini-symposium builds on recent engagements between the Defence Committees, the Department of Defence and National Treasury. It stems from the growing concerns around the rising expenditure on Compensation of Employees in the Department and related questions around the optimum force design and force rejuvenation.  The symposium not only provided a basis for further engagement between Members of Parliament and the Department, but also aided in bridging the gap between Parliament and academia in the defence sector.The invitation to the mini-symposium was also extended to other relevant stakeholders who attended and these include the:


1.2        Committee Members and support staff




Mr. V.C. Xaba MP (National Assembly:NA): Co-Chairperson,

Mr. TN Mmutle MP (NA)

Ms AJ Beukes MP (NA)

Ms M Modise MP (NA)

Mr SJF Marais MP (NA) (NA)

Mr ML Shelembe MP (NA)

Ms M Bartlett MP (National Council of Provinces) (NCOP)

Mr D Ryder MP (NCOP)

Gen (Ret) B Holomisa MP (NA)

Mr TWI Mafanya MP (NA)


Support Staff:

Peter Daniels                                        -           Committee Content Advisor

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

Pat Jayiya                                             -           Committee Secretary

Gunther Mankay                                    -           Committee Assistant

Felicia Lombard                                    -           Communication Officer


Department of Defence, National Treasury and the DFSC


Mr T Makwetla,Deputy Minister: Department of Military Veterans;

Lt Gen Yam, Chief of Staff: South African National Defence Force (SANDF);

Lt Gen L Mbatha, Chief SA Army;

Lt Gen Msimang, Chief of Air Force;

Lt Gen (Ret) V Masondo, Military Ombud;

Maj Gen M Ramantswana, Chief: Military Policy, Strategy and Planning;

Maj Gen Maphaha, Acting Surgeon General;

Brig Gen Gardiner, Planner: SANDF 

Maj Gen R Andersen, Defence Reserves;

Maj Gen (Ret) Mokoape, Reserve Force Council

Lt Colonel G Giles (Ret), Reserve Force Council;

General J Del Monte (Ret), Reserve Force Council;

Mr P Nkabinde, Parliamentary Liaison Officer;

Dr Rendani Randela: Chief Director, Public Finance: National Treasury; and

Defence Force Service Commission – Mr Ian Robertson


1.3        Overview of the Mini-symposium


The JSCD extended the invitation to the defence subject experts and requested them to make inputs to the Symposium against the following problem statement, primary research question and secondary research question namely:


Problem statement:

Since 1994, the matter of the SANDF’s Force Design has plagued the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Several policy directives have been provided over the years, but organisational renewal has not followed these policy directives. This has since progressed to a point where Human Resource matters within the Department of Defence (DOD) has begun to pose a significant organisational risk. Amid a stagnating defence budget, expenditure on Compensation of Employees continues to rise, limiting the ability of the SANDF to focus on capital acquisition and operations. The fighting force continues to age and the SANDF structure has become increasingly top-heavy, all amid the lack of a feasible exit-mechanism for personnel. Despite the Minister of Defence prioritising aspects such as ‘organisational renewal’ and ‘human resources renewal’ since 2014, little progress has been made.


Primary research question:

The 2015 Defence Review states that “the fundamental principle remains that the force design must match the level of commitment, without compromising the necessary ratio between personnel, operations and capital, and the balance between Regulars and Reserves.” Given current fiscal constraints, are changes to the SANDF’s Force Design required to best bring about the desired balance between personnel, operations and capital?


Secondary research questions:

Further questions related to Force Design emerged in recent JSCD engagements with the DOD and may require input:

  • What internal shifts can the DOD make to limit its spending on Compensation of Employees without compromising the integrity of the Force?
  • The SANDF’s ageing fighting force is of concern and force rejuvenation is crucial. How can the DOD effectively address this? (Input form international comparison will be appreciated).
  • The SANDF admitted that it is a top-heavy structure. How does this affect militaries in their primary tasks?


The presenters subsequently provided the JSCD with their respective presentations which allowed Members to engage with it prior to the Symposium.


2.         Presentation by Prof Lindy Heinecken


2.1        Contextual orientation


Prof Heineken’s started off by explaining the context in which the Symposium was taking place and alluded to the fact that much of what will be discussed and especially the context, is captured in her book South Africa’s Post –Apartheid Military: Lost in transition and transformation. She then outlined the ‘in’ flexible service system and related challenges which she listed as the following:

  • Force imbalances – 87% in Medium/Long/Short by 2003
  • MSDS and force rejuvenation?
  • Lack of career planning or force development strategy
  • Lack of effective exit mechanisms
  • Other contributing factors


2.2        Addressing the misalignment in the force design


In expressing her opinion on how to address the misalignment in the force design, she stated that crucial issues for discussion include the following:

  • Consensus on missions and roles
  • Realignment of force design with operational demands
  • Need to modernise for future roles
  • Address issues of human capital development
  • Need for internal control mechanisms
  • Reserve component and capacity gaps
  • Realigning and closes bases.


2.3        From Vision to Action


The next section dealt with conceptualising how to move from the vision to action and this should typically start at Tier 1, where the Roles and Mission should be clarified, the force design should be determined and this should then be communicated to the relevant stakeholders. At Tier 2 various issues should be trashed out such as modernisation; basing (closure or realignment of bases); human capital management; internal control and the utilisation of the Reserves. All these factors should be considered to determine what, when and how the operational tempo of the SANDF should be.



3.         Presentation by Dr Moses B Khanyile


3.1        Scope of presentation


Dr Khanyile started off by stating the purpose of his presentation namely to provide an input on matters related to SANDF’s Force Structure & Force Design. His scope included the conceptual context; force structure determinants; force structure turnaround imperatives and points to ponder. Regarding the conceptual context, he stated that it is important to have clarity on the two concepts namely Force structure vs. Force Design, and what the institutional mandates and competencies are. He further stated that given that the main focus is on Force Structure the key questions should be: How did we get here?  How long can the status quo be sustained? and What needs to be done?


3.1        Force Design vs. Force Structure


He then drew a clear distinction between Force Design and Force Structure given that some use these terms interchangeably and especially because the 2015 Defence Review clearly distinguished between the two. The next part of the discussion revolved around Force Structure determinants, which he listed as follow:


  • Defence Force mandate: Broad vs. narrow.
  • Threat perception: nature, immediacy/urgency, complexity, quantity vs. quality (specialisations)
  • Financial resources
  • National disposition towards the military
  • Geopolitical considerations
  • Political will.


These concepts and how it relates to the Force Structure were subsequently explained. Regarding the National disposition towards the military, he was of the opinion that there is a need for national consensus on the need for the military. Here, reference can be had to the policy documents such as the White Paper on Defence, Defence Review, etc. On geopolitical considerations he stated that this is linked to the threat perception as well as the country’s role in the region/sub-region. He further stressed the need for political will regarding the funding determination, which is likely to require that hard and politically unpalatable decisions will have to be taken.


3.2        Force Structure Planning Dynamics


The section on Force Structure Planning Dynamics, referred to “inbound” processes such as recruitment and transfers from other departments, whereas the “within” processes deal with issues such as Force Preparation, Force Deployment and Force In-reserve. The “outbound” processes deal with attrition to death, retirement, terminations and transfers to other departments.He was of the opinion that there are three main options which can be considered as the Force Structure Turn around imperatives. These are to reduce personnel, reduce deployment and to rebalance the budget.


3.3.       Points to ponder


He concluded by listing points to ponder which consisted of the following:


  • SANDF to devise and adopt a Force Structure Planning model for consistency
  • Performance metrics / ratios to be developed for oversight and monitoring, for example:
  • Budget: 40:30: 30 (Human Resources (HR):Operating:Capital)
  • Support: Combat - 4:1
  • Deployable:Non-deployabletroops
  • Recruitment:Attrition/inbound vs outbound
  • Senior Personnel:Rankand File (1 x General for how many troops).


  • Accelerated exit of unfit, over-age, unhealthy, or supernumerary personnel
  • Each service/division to be given prescribed HR ceiling (personnel & budget)
  • Performance Agreements of senior personnel to include milestones for rebalancing the HR numbers and HR budget


4.          Presentation by Mr Helmoed-Romer Heitman


Mr Heitman’s presentation covered the following issues namely the SANDF’s Force Design; SANDF minimum required force; SANDF personnel strength and cost; SANDF 40:30:30; SANDF reducing personnel costs; SANDF Possible internal shifts and SANDF ageing combat services.


4.1        SANDF’s Force Design


He was of the opinion that defence planning is simple in time of war or imminent war – the enemy and his intentions are known, and there is usually a reasonably clear idea of his doctrine and therefore how his forces are likely to operate. Defence planning is vastly more difficult in time of peace when there is no clear enemy on which to base plans and force strength and composition. Most countries meet this challenge by trying to maintain forces adequate and appropriate to counter existing and predictable threats, and with the adaptability, flexibility and agility to meet unexpected threats.  That is sometimes termed the ‘minimum required force.’


4.2        SANDF Minimum required force

In discussing the minimum required force, he stated that the force design of the SANDF must be based on providing and maintaining the capabilities required to:

  • Execute existing missions;
  • Deal with existing challenges;
  • Deal with existing threats;
  • Deal with foreseeable threats; and
  • Deal with foreseeable risks.

The personnel strength required for the combat services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces) will be determined by this. Overall personnel strength will then depend on the organisation of the defence force and its supporting services and divisions

4.3        SANDF Personnel strength and cost

In contrast to other views, he believed that the SANDF is not massively over-staffed for its roles and missions.  He stated that what has actually happened was that it was caught between declining funding on the one hand and expanding missions and salary inflation on the other. This was aggravated by:

  • Ageing personnel in junior ranks who are, by virtue of seniority and having families, extremely expensive compared to the cost of younger soldiers;
  • A surplus of administrative and management bodies that add little value but are over-staffed and over-ranked; and.
  • Rank inflation, in part dating from the previous SADF and in part a result of the integration process after 1994.

4.4        SANDF 40:30:30

It was his belief that it was unfortunate that the 40:30:30 formula was put into the Defence Review. The ratio of personnel costs to operating costs and capital funding is not something that can be set to a formula. It depends on the nature of the defence force which, in turn, depends on its mission sets. The SANDF, for good reasons, is Army-heavy and the Army is for equally good reasons Infantry-heavy. The result is higher personnel cost component than for a more technology-intensive defence force.

4.5        SANDF Reducing personnel costs

Given that the SANDF is not massively over-staffed, he believed that it would be possible to cut about
10 000 posts without immediate harm, but that would carry risk when expanding the force to meet expanding missions.  To fit into the current budget and into the 40:30:30 formula, the SANDF would have to shed more than 20 000 posts, but that would undermine operational capability. Aspects to consider in either case:

  • Labour legislation would make it difficult to implement either approach;
  • It will not be a cheap; and
  • Do we really want 10 000 or 20 000 more unemployed?

He concluded this part by emphasising that “There is no quick, cheap solution to the problem.”

4.6        SANDF Possible internal shifts

He stated there is not much the SANDF can do internally to reduce personnel costs in the short term. Over the longer term the SANDF could look at:

  • Shedding over-age personnel, but costly if we do not just dump people;
  • Reversing rank inflation, which should be done anyway; and
  • Reducing and down-ranking the administrative overhead structures, which should also be done anyway.

4.7        SANDF Ageing Combat Services

He was of the opinion that this is in part a result of inadequate exit mechanisms and in part a result of the present high levels of unemployment. Again there is no quick and cheap way to solve this problem. But looking at the longer term the SANDF could:

  • Find a way to shed over-age junior ranks currently in the SANDF.
  • Implement a short-service system coupled to vocational training, for instance: 
    • 6 years of full-time service plus 4 years of reserve service linked to a vocational training bursary.
    • 4 years in a deployable battalion, 4 years in a border protection battalion with part-time vocational training, and 2 years of reserve service and a bursary to complete the vocational training.
    • Implement an attractive medium service exit system.

4.8        SANDF Rank inflation

In contrast to a generally-held view, he believed that the SANDF is not as badly over-ranked as some assume. Comparison with other forces does suggest some over-ranking but:

  • A medium-sized defence force will be over-ranked compared to
    • A larger force because some posts simply are colonel or general officer posts whether overseeing fourteen or forty units; or
    • A smaller force, because the medium size force will have functions that simply do not exist in a smaller force.

There is benefit to a surplus of senior personnel in peace, particularly colonels and warrant officers, because:

  • They are an invaluable reserve when the situation requires expansion; and
  • They are the organisation’s institutional memory. 

5.         Input by the Deputy Minister

The Deputy Minister was of the opinion that given the mentioned challenges, there is a need to be bold to the reposition the SANDF. Whether this should be through redesigning the SANDF to counter the threats on the horizon or other measures, should be collaboratively decided.

His understanding of the Force Design and Force Structure differed from that of the 2015 Defence Review in that he believes that from a management point of view, the design of an organisation deals with its structures and business processes, while the structure is an element of the Force Design. This needs to be clarified in order to ensure that there is a common understanding of these concepts to avoid uncertainty.


He also felt that there should be a discussion how the Arms of Services are structured, how they operate and what kind of powers and protocols each one has. He took it that this engagement is the beginning of a process and hope that the generals would be brought in at a later stage to assist with clarifying issues and determine the way ahead, in conjunction with the Defence Committees.


5.         Concluding remarks by the Presenters


5.1        Prof Heinecken


She stated that there is a need for urgent intervention to address some of these burning issues. There should also be a clear message as to what the SANDF can do in terms of operational tempo and what they are expected to comply with. One aspect that was not addressed was that not enough is being done beyond military issues in that it is critical that society knows what the military is actually doing. There is a need for a wider debate as the DOD is on the threshold of yet another major transformational issue and if this is not done properly, it might impact on what they should actually do.


  1.       Dr Moses Khanyile


He observed that the Military Skills Development System (MSDS)is very important in that it can address many issues raised during the Symposium. He also acknowledged that the exit side of HR is a major challenge and there is a need to redefine how this is being done to avoid throwing such members to the “wolves.”The emphasis on pre-funding of ordered commitments offers an opportunity for the DOD and he believed that NT might listen if the DOD make a cogent argument like UN reimbursement argument. He also believed that the “One force concept” needs to be reignited and implemented as it can provide valuable insights on possible options.

He was of the opinion that HRissues cannot be addressed by cost containment, but maybe the DOD should also look at capital raising to become partially self-sustainment given that it has land, buildings, old equipment etc where such proceeds can be reinvested into the DOD.

5.3        Mr Heitman


He emphasised his view that the oft-quoted 40/30/30 ratio is not realistic, given that he believes that the DOD is not overstaffed but that it can easily shed 10 000 members if it is done properly and humanely.Regarding the utilisation of technology vs feet on ground, he explained that some jobs can only be done with people and are troop intensive. In such a case, the utilisation of technology will not assist to drive down costs. 


He was further of the opinion that with regards to funding challenge, that it was not up to National Treasury to decide, but Cabinet and this should be conveyed to the Executive. He concluded that already in 2001, President Mbeki has stressed that there can be no development without security and that this is an important precondition which some appear to have lost sight of.


6.         Committee Observations


The Committee noted the following:


  • One of the main issues raised by Members was the need to move forward from this untenable situation and what short-term strategies can be developed to assist the SANDF. In this context it was suggested that an urgent engagement is required based on what we have learnt at the
    Symposium and what is expected of the SANDF.
  • Based on the input from Mr Heitman, a question was asked whether the SANDF really needs the SAMilitary Health Service (SAMHS) as an independent Arm of Service, given the funding challenge and the cost attached to maintain this Arm of Service.
  • Although it was previously observed by the Minister ofDefence that we should not have another Defence Review soon, the general view was that there needs to be an urgent engagement on how to take the Defence Force forward.
  • A suggestion was made that the JSCD needs to recommend to the Ministry that the DOD should submit a memorandum to Cabinet to obtain political clarity on what kind of SANDF we need and where such support will come from.
  • Concern was expressed that little of the 1998 Defence Review and even fewer of the 2015 Defence Review’s recommendations were implemented and it was questioned whether it was an issue of non-implementation due to resource scarcity or whether it was due to an unwillingness to implement.
  • While there was agreement that certain members should exitthe SANDF and that this should be done in a very humane way, questions remained how exactly this should be done and where the funding for such exit mechanisms would come from
  • One of the important “take aways” was the view that insisting on 75000 members is unsustainable and that the DOD should consider reviewing this position.
  • It was also important that the SANDF should not be doing everything and should focus on certain activities and consideration should be given to the upfront funding of these activities.
  • The issue of proper human capital management was again stressed and the example used included the placing of people on long term leave/suspension with pay where some of these periods extended beyond 12 months, costing the DOD millions in expenditure. 
  • Consideration should be given to the suggestion that the DOD should develop and adopt a Force Structure Planning Model with related indicators to follow whether the department is achieving these targets.
  • It was stressed that National Treasury’s view was that any proposed plan that does not deal decisively with the Department’s personnel headcount, force design and the conditions of service of the SANDF members, is unlikely to succeed in assisting the Department to operate within the Compensation of Employees ceiling. It is in this context that the issues of Force Design/Force Structure should be considered.
  • One of the main concerns regarding the substantive portion of the budget to Compensation of Employees is that it crowds out other critical areas and in the process, the SANDF stands to lose more and more defence capabilities, weakening its ability to execute its constitutional mandate.



7.         Committee Recommendations


  • The Committee planned a meeting with the Chief of the SANDF to brief it on the Force Design and Force structure in the Fourth Term Programme based on the various interactions to date on this issue.
  • The Committee recognises the urgency of addressing concerns around Force Design and Force Structure, specifically in the current fiscal environment. As such, there should be a follow-up discussion with the SANDF on the Force Design and Force Structure to facilitate agreement on concepts, the challenges, developing options on the way forward dissected in short-, medium- and long term objectives and timelines.
  • The Committee wants to see that the Force Design and Force Structure are finalised to bring certainty around these two concepts. It is however cognisant of the ongoing challenge around the Compensation of Employees (COE) which has led to Irregular Expenditure; the insistence on a force level of 75 000 by the SANDF; and the directive by National Treasury of a COE ceiling. The Committee thus recommends further engagement between the JSCD, the DOD and National Treasury on matters related to Compensation of Employees.
  • Related to the concerns around Compensation of Employees and the need for force rejuvenation, the Committee recommends the finalisation of a humane exit mechanism. The Committee will engage the DOD and National Treasury on the need for an exit mechanism as well as the potential funding thereof.
  • The Committee resolved to engage the Department further on their plan and projections to “sweat assets” to assist with the funding of certain activities.



Report to be considered.


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