Erika Gibson, news24.com (SA), Aug. 22
Pretoria — As a result of staff problems and an annual financial deficit of R5bn, the defence force is, as far as military readiness is concerned, unable to fulfil its constitutional and African responsibilities.
Nearly all divisions are affected by this shortfall and the force’s wide range of commitments is sending it towards certain ruin.
This dark picture emerged from an official report on the army’s operational readiness.
An information briefing to the portfolio committee on defence, where these details were released last week, was closed to the media.
The army has been the worst affected, closely followed by the air force. Although the navy received new ships and has new submarines in the pipeline, a shortage of operating capital means that new air force and navy equipment will be totally underutilised.
It has become impossible to deploy the army’s tank, artillery and anti-aircraft regiments in their primary roles, and they are basically only being maintained.
Medical orderlies in the SA military health service are failing their refresher courses on purpose in order not to be deployed to life-endangering situations in foreign countries.
In Makhado at 2 Squadron, once the air force’s star fighter squadron, there are only three attack instructors to train pilots. As a result, neither the planes nor the pilots can be fully utilised.
As a result of a critical shortage of pilots and technicians at the helicopter squadrons, only 61% of these positions are filled, while medical shortcomings mean that only 51% of flight engineers can be deployed in foreign countries.
Medical problems and the fact that soldiers are only screened once every 12 months for peace deployments, means that medical classifications are constantly changing.
As a result, soldiers who are not medically fit, and even pregnant female soldiers, are being deployed in foreign countries.
The proposed South African contribution to the establishment of a joint peace brigade for the SADC, in accordance with the terms of the African Union, will have to be “carefully managed”, according to the report.
The SA military health service in most instances already does not meet the requirements of the UN’s operational support service.
Logistical support and maintenance of troops in foreign countries is also insufficient.
As a result of foreign commitments to the AU and UN, the remaining senior specialists in the different fields are unable to help with the recruitment, appointment and training of more specialists.
Sam Mkhwanazi, spokesperson for the department of defence, said on Sunday night he had not seen the report and also said he did not want to comment on a closed discussion.
Mkhwanazi said defence minister Mosijoa Lekota was aware of the report.