Some of the South African army’s achievements over the last financial year included deploying additional companies for border safeguarding, supporting foreign peacekeeping missions and declaring the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) force combat ready.
This is according to the latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual report for the year ending 31 March, which said the SA Army complied fully with ordered continental commitments in the 2015/16 financial year, including withdrawal of the South African element of the joint AU/UN peace support mission in Sudan after the period under review ended.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the withdrawal was due to the Sudanese government making it “increasingly difficult” for South Africa to provide logistic support to its troops and impossible for South African forces to protect women and children there. “As a result a decision was taken to withdraw the force with effect from 1 April 2016. This force will not be replaced.”
The report states: “Due to well-considered strategic reasons, the South African government decided to withdraw the SANDF contingent from the Sudan war at the beginning of financial year 2016/17”.
South African defence elements are deployed as part of the UN’s single largest peace support mission – MOUNSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo – where South African three star general Derrick Mgwebi has been force commander since February.
Another SANDF deployment in the DRC is Mission Thebe with 18 soldiers – not instructors, according to the report - in the central African country safeguarding training equipment in the mission area.
The landward force also devoted much of the 2015/16 financial year to joint, inter-departmental, inter-agency and multi-national exercises in South Africa.
These included Exercise Young Eagle in Bloemfontein during July/August 2015 to prepare and exercise the SANDF commitment to the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) force. This saw an assessment of combat readiness and correcting shortfalls “as far as possible”, integrating the joint task group into an organised structure and exercising specific tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).
“The ACIRC force was declared combat ready,” according to the report.
The Amani Africa II exercise, part of preparation for the AU Africa Standby Force (ASF), was hosted by the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) in Northern Cape during October and November last year. More than 4 600 military troops, police and civilians participated in the exercise primarily to evaluate rapid deployment capability which was declared a success.
Troop contributing countries were Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Other exercises in 2015/16 included Oxide with France in Richards Bay in September/October 2015, the chemical, nuclear, biological and radiological Exercise Wayside (May and August 2015) and Exercise Blue Zambezi (in Botswana in September 2015, focussing on humanitarian aid operations).
The SA Army in the form of its Reserve Force component is the major contributor to Operation Corona, the ongoing border protection tasking inherited from the SA Police Service.
The annual report notes: “The SA Army increased the number of sub-units (companies) for deployment from 13 to 15 to execute border safeguarding and used SA Army Reserves to supplement the Regulars deployed internally”.
In the report Mapisa-Nqakula stated that this is still short of the 22 subunits stipulated in the National Security Strategy, but despite the shortfall the Defence Force achieved major successes during the past financial year.
General SollyShoke said the increase in border safeguarding units was part of a “zealous effort to reduce the porosity of our borders,” and is seeing the acquisition of “mobility packages” for the borders, which include vehicles and other equipment. “Given the resource constraints, a limited consignment of these packages has been procured.”
During the last financial year the Department of Defence finished receiving medium and light graders, tracked and wheeled dozers, wheeled loaders, tractor loader backhoes and tracked excavators for the Army’s engineering capability. Progress was also made on producing the Badger infantry combat vehicles for the SA Army and water purifiers for the SA Army were delivered for testing eight months ahead of schedule.
As far as humanitarian assistance is concerned the Engineers Corps of the SA Army deployed water bunkers to communities needing water relief in drought-ravaged Free State as well as planning and building four low-cost bridges in Eastern Cape (at Mancan, Zazulwana, Bawa and amaZizi).
According to the annual report, the Department of Defence spent R15.118 billion on the Landward Defence component of the South African National Defence Force, including R10.624 billion on personnel, or 70% of total expenditure. As of 31 March this year, there were 40 200 employees within the Landward Defence component.
Also mentioned in the report, but after the 2015/16 financial year’s reporting date, was the fate of 507 soldiers placed on special leave in 2009 after they marched at the Union Buildings demanding salary increases. They were instructed to return to work on 23 May 2016. The chief of the SANDF decided that those on special leave would be recalled. “As on July 2016, some members applied for leave to be granted to institute a class action for possible loss of benefits during the period of special leave, as on the date of this Report, no liabilities have yet been determined.”