If South Africans want a military and particularly an army they can be proud of they have to stand up and tell government, is the suggestion of SA Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, to boost military coffers and enable soldiers to properly fulfil the mandate given them by the South African Constitution.
Yam, now in his second year as commander of the single largest component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), gave some insight into his thinking regarding the lack of National Treasury funding to the uniformed civil service in Thaba Tshwane this week. Answering questions during his first media briefing as army boss, Yam was adamant South Africans should stand up for not only his service, but for the defence force as a whole.
Elaborating, he turned to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where South African soldiers and airmen are serving with MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).
“During a visit, Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo, and I were told by a Malawian brigadier general ‘I don’t know what we would have done without the South Africans’”.
Yam related how the Malawian told him the South African helicopter contingent of three Oryx medium transport and a pair of Rooivalk combat support platforms overrode his decision and went in to fetch dead and wounded civilian and military personnel following an attack.
“We were told the South Africans displayed outstanding strength of character in taking on this mission,” Yam said adding “it is traits of this type the South African nation must nurture and be proud of”.
“Our soldiers are acknowledged and appreciated continentally for their actions as well as their thorough training and the way they react under fire and in other situations they may find themselves in, but at home it appears South Africans do not have the same high esteem of their soldiers,” he said adding the example of what soldiers were doing to protect South Africa’s sovereignty by way of the border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
Asked about a possible reduction in numbers given the tight budgetary situation faced by the military, Yam was adamant more funding – not less – was needed.
“It takes at least 10 years to build up a credible military strength. That’s the time it takes to properly train soldiers from basics through to the correct use of equipment, including weapons.
“Soldiers are told ‘don’t talk’. But I’m a soldier and today I’m talking and telling you South Africa needs properly trained soldiers to not only protect territorial sovereignty but also to act as part of national foreign policy and in support of peace and development on the African continent.
“I don’t want to face the country when the bodybags start coming in and ask where the money was when we needed it,” Yam said.
The Department of Defence has also warned of budget cuts, with the 2017 Annual Performance Plan noting that the defence allocations over the next five years will continue to drop, going from 1.02% of GDP for 2017 to 0.92% of GDP in 2018.
“These budget cuts in 2017 have a direct bearing on the implementation of Government policy as articulated through the SA Defence Review 2015 deliverables and will affect defence renewal programmes, the ability of the South African National Defence Force to prepare forces for internal and external commitments and to effectively execute its Constitutional mandate.”
The Department of Defence added that the budget allocation for the 2017 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) “may not adequately fund force preparation and renewal in support of the required defence commitments ordered by Government. The DoD will continue to consider the disjuncture between its current budget allocation, its level of ambition as articulated by Government through the SA Defence Review 2015, collective requirements of the UN, AU, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its Constitutional and Legislative mandate.”