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Distressed SANDF in Cost-cutting Exercise

South Africa has the 26th most powerful army in the world and has risen 6 places since 2012. It ranks second in Africa after Egypt.

But analysts have been warning for years that the country’s military is in a critical state of disrepair.

The Defense Department and military leaders have complained about the grueling budget cuts over the years.

The South African National Defense Force (SANDF) is an amalgamation of the former apartheid-era South African Defense Force, the armies of the four former ‘independent homelands’ – Transkei, Ciskei, Venda and Bophuthatswana – and the armies of the liberation movements, the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress.

They formed the new South African National Defense Force (SANDF) in 1994.

This increased the ranks of the armed forces, necessitating a process of rectification and the introduction of a flexible service system.

This included short, medium and long term contracts for the staff, with most of them getting medium to long term contracts.

Failure to provide appropriate exit mechanisms when contracts expired contributed to higher personnel costs.

It also led to an aging force and a failure to rejuvenate the forces

The declining defense budget has eroded the military’s operational and capital expenditures, leaving insufficient resources for equipment replacement, maintenance and infrastructure.

For example, only a fraction of the Air Force is operational.

The financial difficulties Bee denelthe state-owned defense, security and related technology company has compounded the problems.

The South African military’s main supplier, both as a manufacturer and for equipment overhaul, maintenance, repair, refurbishment and upgrade, has fallen victim to corruption.

The army’s vehicles have deteriorated and the army does not have enough air or ground capacity to protect itself and secure its borders.

Reduced funding for the infantry, air defense artillery, air combat, naval combat and special operations has diminished the effectiveness of the SANDF.

Personnel costs

This, and an outrageous wage bill, have led to claims that the South African Defense Force is no longer a war equipment, but a welfare organization.

Salaries are the largest expenditure item, consuming 62.6% of the R146.3 billion budget for 2022/23.

But this is not entirely at odds with the global standard.

For example, the armed forces of NATO countries spend on average 51.72% on personnel.

Only five – Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway and the United Kingdom spend 40% or less on staff.

Four spend more than 70% of their budget on personnel costs – Belgium, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal and Slovenia.

This year, the SANDF has been awarded R91.3 billion (US$6 billion) for employee compensation over three years.

An additional R1 billion (US$66 million) has been allocated for employee-initiated severance packages, with an additional R800 million (US$56 million) available the following year, subject to satisfactory progress.

Whether this is sufficient is uncertain, but it will enable the military to implement personnel reforms.

This will free up money for technology and equipment in the medium term.

Over the years, rising personnel costs and the unwillingness of politicians to fire people have led to imbalances due to rank inflation.

Rank inflation refers to having too many people in the higher ranks out of proportion to the numbers in the lower ranks.

This makes the cost of the top band staff excessive.

Senior staff often do work that should be done by juniors.

Human resource reforms are needed not only to save money, but also to rejuvenate the military by lowering its median age.

The average age of a SANDF infantry soldier is 37 years, when ideally they should be between 25 and 30 years.

The withdrawal of soldiers without adequate compensation is a long-term problem for the government.

The additional funding announced in the 2022 government budget will make it possible to offer severance pay to aging staff and the disabled.

But, there is a downside.

Offering severance pay could lead to an exodus of the remaining skilled staff, further reducing the capacity of the SANDF.

The SANDF is not massively overstaffed due to its numerous roles.

The current size of the force is 73 153 members.

The problem is the high salaries, some staff members who are not fit for purpose and the imbalance in the senior/junior ratio.

This, coupled with expanding missions, has led to overburdening to the point where the military can no longer meet its obligations within current budgetary constraints.

Restructuring of the forces

Addressing the structure of the defense force is the first step in mitigating the state of disrepair. Changes to the force structure and design are the next most critical tasks.

The SANDF must rebalance its capabilities to perform its core constitutional functions, which is to defend the country against outside aggression.

In addition, there is an ongoing need to perform non-core functions such as helping to fight crime, help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and deal with political violence. This is a big question.

The military lacks the necessary capability, flexibility and adaptability to respond in the short term to various national and regional emergencies.

To do this well, there must first be agreement on what the priorities should be, given budget constraints and outdated and obsolete equipment.

Should the SANDF be repurposed to support peace and stability efforts in the region, with border protection, public order functions and disaster relief as priorities?

These matters were discussed at a mini-symposium in 2020.

The military leadership was urged to consider the short, medium and long-term challenges and devise ways to solve them. Nothing came out.

This is unacceptable given the current security threats facing the country, both from regional instability and within the country.

South Africa needs a clear national security policy that sets out the security architecture and the role of the military. There seems to be a lack of political will or capacity to direct this.

The violence that rocked the country in July 2021 highlighted the importance of the military having a rapid response unit to support the police and respond to regional threats. All these functions require military personnel to be adequately trained, equipped and funded to protect the country.

This calls for a better balance between the full-time armed forces, reservists, volunteers and private security guards. The Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the importance of having full-time armed forces and a territorial defense capacity made up of volunteers and a reserve force in case additional capacity is suddenly needed.


While South Africa is unlikely to face the same conventional threat as Ukraine, it faces some unconventional threats.

These include terrorism and violent extremism that threaten regional stability. Cross-border crime, illegal immigration and gangsterism are other concerns.

There are also threats to internal stability arising from the country’s development challenges, such as poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The country needs a force that is flexible, well equipped, prepared and trained to deal with a range of unforeseen circumstances. It needs to be better ‘packaged’.

By this I am not arguing for the ‘re-militarization’ of society, but for a better use of the military to serve the The Vanir-exoduss of South Africa.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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