The safety of South Africa and its citizens should be an incomparable national priority even if it is not listed among the national apex priorities, members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans were told by Brigadier General Stephen Maloma of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Special Forces at the Special Forces Headquarters in Pretoria yesterday.
Brig-Gen Maloma and his Commanding Officers of the Special Forces told the Committee that cutting the national budget of the Department of Defence on any grounds is a gesture of taking the safety of the country for granted and literally compromising it.
As part of its week-long oversight programme, the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans visited some of the Pretoria-based military bases that included the Special Forces Headquarters and Special Forces School facilities, Air Force Base Waterkloof and Air Force Headquarters. Other places that the Committee visited were the Gauteng Regional Workshop and 1 Military Hospital.
Budget cuts and its negative implications on the military was among the problems which the leading Generals of the Air and Special Forces that were met by the Committee, highlighted.
Brig-Gen Maloma remarked that no country can claim to be a regional power and stand by its progressive foreign policy and compromise its capacity to translate all that into quality defence services. “Cutting the budget of the army is tantamount to cutting the defence value of the country,” he said.
Using the United States (US) as an example, he said the US takes the business of defence very seriously and keeps its defence capacity strong all the time. “The US ensures that it always prioritises its defence and ensures that its military capacity becomes and remains powerful.”
According to the High Command of the Special Forces, budget cuts have diminished the historical capacity of the Special Forces and have far-reaching and serious implications on the number of warm bodies and other very important and necessary resources. The Brigadier General, however, notwithstanding the budgetary constraints the Special Forces endures currently, assured the Committee about the fact that the Special Forces unit of the SANDF will meet its mandate of carrying its responsibilities.
Explaining the nature of the Special Forces unit, Brig-Gen Maloma said it is a unit of the SANDF that exists to do what other units cannot do. “Special means doing an extraordinary responsibility and a responsibility which other people cannot do. In other words, the Special Forces can go where others cannot go,” he said.
He said Special Forces must at all times provide a rapid response when required. “Soldiers of the Special Forces must be able to meet all the conditions, be they normal or abnormal.”
Asked by Members of the Committee about the strength and the ability of the Special Forces in protecting the ammunition depots and other facilities given the implications of budgetary constraints, Brig-Gen Maloma said the Special Forces leadership has ensured that in spite of the budgetary constraints, the protection of military depots and facilities has not been compromised. He said although their number is less than the needed one, the Special Forces facilities are under a very strong and reliable protection – 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “No one can come and touch us. We are untouchable,” he emphasised.
On the small number of women in the Special Forces, Brig-Gen Maloma told the Committee that the type of training that is applied in the Special Forces and which can never be compromised for the purpose of the accessibility of the unit to all, is extremely difficult. He said they normally recruit 1 000 men and women but only 42 would be successful and become Special Forces soldiers. “We train a soldier who can meet the conditions which not everybody can meet. A soldier that becomes a soldier in conditions of 40 degrees heat and be able to walk with 72kg of load for five kilometres.”
He said most women are unable to succeed in such conditions because of their nature.
The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Malusi Motimele, praised the leadership of the Special Forces for ensuring that in spite of budgetary constraints, it is committed to its mandate and assured it that the Committee will support it. He said the Committee will ensure that it does what is within its ability to ensure that the problem of budget cuts and red tape on procurement are dealt with. He said the Committee is going to engage the relevant authorities within government for the alleviation of the problems which the Special Forces have highlighted.