President Zuma Misled Parliament About The SAndf Deployment In Car

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Highlights:

  • Minister has overseen three major scandals in the last year: Boeing-gate, CAR-gate and Gupta-gate;
  • The Defence department claims to be underfunded, but then effectively hides R4.6 billion in the Special Defence Account;
  • Expenditure on “personnel” has ballooned to 50% of the Defence budget but many of them are surplus to the needs of the Defence Force; we have to find a way to increase the operating budget and allocate resources to the “sharp end” of the Defence Force;
  • The Defence Review needs to be finalised ASAP for if the Defence Review does not succeed, the Defence Force will not succeed;
  • The SANDF were deployed to Gemena in the Democratic Republic of Congo without Parliament being informed despite assurances from the Defence Department that this was not the case.

Some months ago, after completing a cabinet-level performance assessment, President Jacob Zuma, or “No. 1” as he seems to be known within the state, decided to push “eject”. 

With the push of a button, former Defence Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu was catapulted from her ultra-luxury Gulfstream executive jet, tumbling down 35 000 foot, and landing in a dump, called “DPSA”.

Since then, the Minister has been spotted, on British Airways, picking at her “Woolies” meals, probably desperately missing her favorite Gulfstream executive jet.

But, truth be told the Minister seems to be settling in rather well, in her new role, monitoring tardiness and name-dropping in the “capable state”.

The same, of course, cannot be said for the new Defence Minister who seems to be stumbling from one scandal to another.

First, we had “Boeing-gate”. 

Then, we had “CAR-gate”. 

Now, we have “Gupta-gate”.

The Minister must realise that at this rate she is in danger of being re-christened: “Minister-gate”.

There are, unsurprisingly, rumours in the corridors of power that the President is losing patience with the Minister, and that his finger is once again, hovering above the “eject” button.

One suspects, that if there is one more Defence scandal, the President will push the “eject” button, and catapult the Minister back to Correctional Services, where she can do less damage.

Yesterday, we debated “Guptagate” without the benefit of a copy of the final report of the investigation.

The report was deliberately and cynically released in the middle of the debate in order to “disarm” the opposition in Parliament.

The report, frankly, makes for scary reading.

The President is, evidently, not in control of his ministers. And, his ministers are, evidently, not in control of officials.

When the President say’s “jump”, his ministers, evidently, do not even listen.

Now, we were told that the Minister turned down a request from the Gupta family to use AFB Waterkloof.

This appears not to be true.

It was the Minister’s senior adviser – who had been contacted separately by a different person – who in fact turned down the request.

The Minister seems to have, for a period at least, seriously considered the request.

The Minister knew the Guptas had their eye on AFB Waterkloof.

Had she issued a clear instruction to the Defence department, Jet Airways JAI9900 would never have landed in AFB Waterkloof, and there would have been no “Guptagate” scandal.

The Minister was clearly negligent.

We therefore hope that one day soon the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, will be knocking on the Minister’s door to begin an independent investigation into “Guptagate”.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General “Solly” Shoke, has not been given an opportunity to brief the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on the “combat readiness” of the Defence Force.

We therefore know very little about the state of the Defence Force.

However, everything we do know suggests that the Defence Force is in deep trouble.

This was nowhere better illustrated than by the tragedy in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Force Commander, Colonel William Dixon, is justifiably proud of our soldiers.

Because our soldiers fought well when the fighting began, surviving according to the terrible logic of battle, which is: kill or be killed.

But, the fact is our soldiers were left dangling, with both hands tied behind their backs, in a deadly firefight, which cost 14 young soldiers, from the elite 1 Parachute Battalion, their lives.

The SANDF was somehow drawn into a battle it could not supply. 

And, the limits of the SANDF’s capabilities were on display for everyone to see in the CAR.

We know that the Defence department tends to reduce its problems to a single cause: a shrinking defence budget.

So, it is appropriate that we are here today to debate the R40 billion appropriation for Defence and Military Veterans for the 2013/14 Financial Year.

The Defence budget will marginally increase over the next three years from R40 billion to R45 billion.

This contrasts with the global trend where finance ministers, when it comes to defence spending, are not bothering with haircuts, but are wielding meat axes and slashing defence spending.

Desperate to increase revenue, the Italian Navy, for example, has gone into business and has hired a brand manager and has launched a new energy drink, called “Forza Blu”.

Thankfully, things are bad, but not that bad.

The Defence department also tends to reduce the solution to all its problems to an increase in the Defence budget.

The Defence department legitimately argues that the Defence budget has been reduced to levels where the Defence Force’s ability to effectively conduct military operations is being compromised.

The truth is that the Defence Force’s operating budget has been stripped to the bone, and this has caused major “capability gaps”.

We all now know that twelve state-of-the-art Gripen fighter jets have been vacuum packed, rather like frozen chickens, and placed in long-term storage, because of budget cuts.

The Defence Force is “caught” in a terrible “fix” which put simply is this:  the demand for force employment is going up and the Defence Force’s operating budget is going down.

However, the Defence department, frustratingly, does not seem able to help itself by making a credible argument concerning the defence budget.

We are faced with tired old arguments about the defence budget: defence spending, we are told, should be “pegged” at two percent of the GDP.

This, we are told, is what international financial institutions recommend. Well, that is simply not true: what international financial institutions recommend, for developing countries, is that defence spending should not exceed two percent of the GDP.

Then, we are faced with lazy arguments about the defence budget: incredibly, almost nobody in the defence department seems to know exactly by how much the defence budget would have to be increased, if the defence budget was “pegged” at two percent of the GDP.

Well, the answer to that question, for those of you who are interested, is about R30 billion.

Then, we are faced with dishonest arguments about the defence budget: what the Defence department have not disclosed is that there is a surplus of R4.6 billion – yes, R4.6 billion – which has been “warehoused” in the secret Special Defence Account.

The Defence department claims to be underfunded, but then effectively hides R4.6 billion in the Special Defence Account.

The Defence department, it seems to me, is carrying a begging bowl in one hand, and R4.6 billion in the other hand.

The Defence department also seems reluctant to face the fact that expenditure on “personnel” has ballooned and now exceeds 50 percent of the total defence budget.

More than R3 billion has been “shifted” since the 2010/11 financial year to increase remuneration of personnel, many of whom are surplus to the needs of the Defence Force.

The fact is that the Defence Force is a top-heavy, mushroom-shaped monster.

In 2011, for example, we had 19 admirals in the South African Navy, but only 17 ships, many of them alongside.

 To twist the words in a famous note penned by a former United States’ defence secretary:

“It is hard to imagine how a collection of such talented, intelligent, honourable, dedicated, patriotic people, who care about the security of South Africa, and the men and women in the armed forces, could have combined to produce such a mess.”

We cannot go on like this.

We have to find a way to increase the operating budget and allocate resources to the “sharp end” of the Defence Force.

Because we have to ensure that our soldiers are never again left dangling, without the necessary support, and without the necessary equipment, as they were in the CAR.

This is imperative, not least because the SANDF are about to begin a very high- risk mission, under the auspices of the United Nations, conducting “offensive operations”, against rebel groups in the eastern DRC.

The last best hope is the Defence Review. That is why we need the Defence Review to be finalised, “ASAP”. In the end, if the Defence Review does not succeed, the Defence Force will not succeed.

Now, it goes without saying that in a democracy such as ours, the Commander-in-Chief, President Zuma, and the Defence Force, must comply with the Constitution.

We all know that the President has an obligation to inform Parliament “promptly and in appropriate detail” about any deployment of the SANDF.

We are all by now familiar with the controversy concerning the deployment of the SANDF in the CAR.

We were told that the SANDF were being deployed to provide training to the defence force in the CAR.

We were not told that the SANDF were being deployed to the CAR to provide “force protection”. 

And, we were certainly not told that the SANDF were being deployed to the CAR to keep rebel forces out of Bangui.

But, the situation is much worse because there is much more we were not told. 

We heard rumours about a possible deployment of the SANDF to Gemena in the DRC to support operations in the CAR.

Today, I can reveal that the SANDF were deployed in the DRC to support operations in the CAR.

However, this deployment was never disclosed to Parliament.

The Defence department denied that the SANDF had been deployed to the DRC.

Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga told us “claims of massing troops in Uganda and the DRC are not credible”.

Well, here is a picture of a Rooivalk helicopter deployed at Gemena in the DRC.

This picture provides incontrovertible evidence that the SANDF were deployed in Gemena in the DRC.

These force elements may have been deployed for a perfectly legitimate military reason.

That is not the point.

The point is this: Parliament was never informed about the deployment of the SANDF in the DRC to support operations in the CAR.

This is incontrovertible evidence that President Zuma did not fully inform Parliament about the deployment of the SANDF to Gemena in the DRC.

This is incontrovertible evidence that President Zuma misled Parliament about the deployment of the SANDF to Gemena in the DRC.

This is incontrovertible evidence that President Zuma lied to Parliament about the deployment of the SANDF to Gemena in the DRC. 

We will, therefore, consider tabling a substantive motion calling for a parliamentary investigation into this matter.

We cannot sit back and allow President Zuma to play fast-and-loose with the Constitution and with Parliament.