Dr. Norman Miambo:Peace and Governance Programme: Africa
Institute of South Africa



The democratic government that came to power in 1994 set out among other things, to change the manner in which defence issues were being handled in South Africa. This process was achieved by the adoption and implementation of three important documents namely:

(a) The Defence White Paper, 1996,

(b) The Defence Review, 1998' and

(c) The White Paper on South African Defence Related Industries, 1999.

Among them, these three documents changed the country's defence policy, posture, roles, composition, structure, size and tactics. The documents changed the general understanding of security from mere state security to national security, regional security and human security. They emphasized the defensive and non-militaristic nature of the South African security system. They also established clear civilian control of the military, subjected South African defence to conform to democratic governance and international law, rationalized defence production and procurement, and enabled the integration of formerly belligerent forces.

Both the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review were produced after a long process of consultation which was very inclusive. In fact, the Draft White Paper was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence several times before it was finally adopted. There was interaction and consultation between the Department of Defence, the Ministry of Defence, Parliament and the Public. The two papers were therefore endorsed by all political parties represented in Parliament at that time.


The Portfolio Commite on Defence instituted a second review of the South African National Defence Force with a view to update the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review. The Committee therefore embarked on a similar journey as that which they traveled between 1996 and 1998, and called upon relevant organizations to make submissions to Parliament as part of South Africa's second defence review process. The areas that the Portfolio Committee on Defence hopes to review include the following:

The consultations by the Portfolio Committee on Defence started on 17 August 2004 when the Department of Defence made their presentations to Parliament, and the consultations are ongoing until December 2004. Civil society organizations including Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) were asked to make their presentations at a Parliamentary Public Hearing to be held in October 2004 in Cape Town. This paper is therefore in preparation for AISA's submission to parliament.


This paper aims at assisting policy makers to understand the nature of the African military environment so that they are able to appreciate the challenges that are likely to be faced by members of the South African National Defence Force in operations in Africa and even beyond. This is important because it determines the level of support that policy makers will extend to the defence forces which in turn determines the effectiveness and successes or failures of South African missions abroad. Some of the policy support for external operations might require not only support for particular operations, but also long term changes in the structure of the force.


The end of apartheid in 1994 appeared to fit in very well with the end of the Cold War between the Western democracies and the communist Eastern block. The hope then was that regionally the end of apartheid would bring with it a peace divident and globally, the end of the Cold War would usher in an era of international peace and security. There was also a hope that the end of the Cold War would speed up the application of a global collective security system which was hitherto blocked by the bi-polar nature of international relations' Neither of the above happened. In Africa, new conflicts emerged such as genocide in Rwanda in 1994, conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Cote d'lvoire, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Congo, the DRC, Lesotho, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Uganda and Sudan. Internationally there were conflicts in Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, Pakistan. Israel, Palestine, Indonesia (Maluku), Thailand, Kurdistan, the United States of America (9/11), Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. Rather than achieving international peace and security, these and other conflicts made the new millennium the most militarily and socially turbulent period since the Second World War.

It is unfortunate that South Africa has to effect its defence review at such an uncertain time. Locally, South Africa is celebrating ten years of peace and democracy, and yet at the same time the country is being exposed to the greatest security challenges regionally, continentally and internationally. In the immediate post - Cold War and post apartheid period, it had become fashionable to talk about defence downsizing, reduction in military expenditure, and turning swords into plough shares. Some have rightly warned that defence restructuring is often a risky business with potential political, financial and human costs' Recently however, new terminology has gained ground, there is now talk of Non Offensive Defence (NOD). This new focus is meant to make countries ready for peace support operations especially those sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. South Africa's readiness and capacity to participate in such operations is the focus of this paper.


It is generally agreed that prevention, diplomacy and political negotiation are the best approaches to resolving conflicts. However, when prevention fails, there is often a need for some kind of peace - support intervention. In any case, military peace support operations must be viewed as a continuation of the political and diplomatic efforts to achieve peace. The decision on what type of operation South Africa can become involved in is always complex even for the African Union and the United Nations' One of the criticisms leveled against the 1996 Defence White Paper was that it did not specify what kinds of peace - support operations the South African National Defence Force might be called upon to do. Before answering that question however, it is important to remember one of the recommendations of the Brahimi report to the United Nation's Security Council that,

There are many tasks which United Nations peacekeeping forces should not undertake and many places they should not go. But when the United Nations does send its forces to uphold the peace, they must be prepared to confront the lingering forces of war and violence, with the ability and determination to defeat


When the political decision for intervention is made by the SADC Summit, the AU Heads of State Summit, or by the UN Security Council, the next question for South Africa is the readiness of its units. Below is a list of some of the possible missions that the SANDF might find themselves involved in.

Reaction Forces

The envisaged operations of South African forces in Africa are not offensive but rather rapid reaction operations. The emphasis therefore would be for quick reaction forces that can take control of a situation in the shortest possible time, if possible, without fighting.

Speed of deployment is therefore a key factor. An indication of the speed with which South African forces must be able to deploy is that under African Union Conflict and Mission Scenario , which is reaction to genocide, the requisite forces must be able to deploy in less than 14 days. Sometimes, the requirement is for deployment within 24 hours.

Disaster relief

South African forces have already been involved in disaster relief operations such as the floods in Mozambique in the year 2000. This type of operation does not require fire power. However, the level of training and readiness of the forces involved is just as high or sometimes higher than that required for fire-power operations.


Sometimes there is so much carnage in an area that South African forces might be called upon to evacuate sick people or even dead bodies. Sometimes there is a need to evacuate members of the South African force after encountering a disaster such as stepping on a mine or after being ambushed or some such disaster. We know that South Africa's medical corps is professional and always ready, the question however is whether they can be able to get to an African hotspot as soon as required and be able to get out with their patients without them ending up as the casualties. There is therefore a need for strong backup for such forces and a quick relay of messages to all humanitarian forces in the region such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

VIP transport and protection

An important element of peace - support is the transportation of VIPs such as AU, UN or national leaders who are always on fact finding missions. Besides ensuring the safety of such personnel, it is also important to maintain a certain level of comfort for them.

Hot extraction

It may happen that some of the people that South African units are supposed to protect may come under siege and must be quickly removed to a place of safety. In cases where peace - support forces are not able to negotiate their way through the siege, it might be necessary to extract the endangered people in a clandestine manner. These operations are dangerous and require the greatest of skills. Sometimes it also involves the extraction of embassy personnel and their families or some other important group of people. These kinds of operations are normally carried out by forces with experience in commando or special air service type of operations.

Re-supply and provisioning

The United Nations and now the African Union require that units operating under their missions be able to supply themselves for periods of up to 90 days. In most cases, forces would receive their supplies regularly either from home or from whatever local suppliers.

Where there are no reliable local suppliers, then the forces have to rely solely on the supply line from home. The capability of the South African forces to supply their units anywhere in Africa is just as important as the ability to fight, for if the supplies do not reach the units in time, it is as bad as putting South African units under siege. Most important under this item is the re-supply of ammunition, fuel, medicines, fresh rations

and spare parts for the maintenance of unit equipment.


The African terrain is very much diverse, and South African troops might be required to operate in any of the following environments:

South African forces are familiar with all the above listed terrain except perhaps desert and snow conditions. And yet, most of North Africa is desert terrain, including the western Sudanes region of Darfur which is Africa's current hottest spot. Although some South African forces may have a capacity to operate in such arid areas as the Kalahari and Namib deserts, there is need for specialization in desert operations to be able to deploy in areas such as Darfur.

There is therefore a need to send South African units for exercises with their African counterparts in such places as Egypt, Libya, Algeria and other such countries. For international preparedness, it is also necessary to send South African units for exercises in Europe or Canada so that they get used to snowy condition operations. Besides making the troops familiar with desert and snow conditions, South African units must also be aware of the equipment, logistical and clothing requirements of operating in such environment.



Most African countries do not have good roads. Sometimes units have to construct their own roads in order to access a particular area. If South African units are operating under a United Nations mission, sometimes engineering units from other countries might be available for such tasks. However, if South African units are involved in a SADC or African Union mission, such engineering units might not be readily available. South Africa must therefore strengthen its military and civil engineering units for such eventualities.

While in offensive operations engineering corps often have to blow up bridges and other infrastructure, in peace-support missions they often have to build their own bridges, and drill boreholes for water.


With South Africa's expanding peace-support role in Africa and beyond, air transport will become more and more important. South African units must have a capacity to transport by air the following:

(a) Troops,

(b) Equipment,

(c) Spare parts,

(d) Fresh rations,

(e) Clothing and goodies,

(f) Refugees, and

(g) VIPs.

Policy wise, it is important to prioritize between the procurement of transport aircraft and fighter aircraft, for example:

1. C 130s as opposed to Fighter jets.

2. Puma versus Rooivolk type helicopters.

3. For heavy equipment uplift, Russian Antonov/Ilyushin aircraft.

4. Maritime patrol aircraft. (Super Lynx 300 helicopter)

5. Search and rescue aircraft.

6. For armoured vehicles, mobility versus fire power.

Tied to the question of air transport is the issue of the training of pilots and aircraft engineers for transport aircraft. There must of necessity be a targeted emphasis on the training or conversion of air transport crew. It was a proud moment when one woman appeared in the local media as the first woman to fly the newly acquired Grippen jet fighters. That is really good affirmative action in gender equality, and good publicity too. However we need to see more female pilots flying military transport aircraft so that they can participate in peace support missions. Fighter jets although crucial for national defence) do not normally play a big role in peace - support missions.

Another important consideration is the fact that there are very few countries in Africa that have serviceable runways in areas that are prone to conflict which is where most peace - support units will be required to operate. Therefore, even if South Africa were to increase its air transport capability, that effort might be of little use if the aircraft will not be able to land anywhere. Therefore, engineers must again be called upon to be ready to quickly construct, repair and equip runways and helipads for temporary use by South African units anywhere in Africa.

Another problem with air transport is the threat of manned portable missiles (We are reminded of the SAM - 7 missile that narrowly missed the Israeli passenger aircraft taking off from Mombasa in November 2002). It is difficult for terrorists to identify a peacekeeping aircraft if it is flying high because of lack of communication channels and means. Sometimes terrorists simply target aircraft because of the attention they receive if one is downed. It is therefore necessary to think of installing missile countermeasures technology on a few aircraft, especially those that might be used to airlift VIPs from dangerous areas. There is also a need for units that specialize in the protection of emergency runways, airstrips and helipads.

Also important is the fact that African airspace has no adequate air traffic control. The navigation facilities are inadequate and there is lack of modern radar control which is a danger to both aircraft and passengers. In some cases, South African air traffic controllers may have to take charge of certain segments of African airspace in which South African units are operating. Therefore, it is important to start thinking of training more air traffic controllers.

Political challenges

South African units must be briefed fully on the political situation of the area where they are being deployed. This assumes that officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs are fully aware of the politics of the particular region. In addition, defence attaches must gather as much information as they can with a view to assist the deployed South African mission. This information gathering does not necessarily need people to engage in clandestine spying activities. Most information of a political nature can be obtained simply by following the local media, the internet, other diplomatic missions and sometimes just talking to people.


Whether units are moving by road, air, or are marching on foot, there is need for good maps so that units do not get lost and end up in hostile territory. However, there are few African countries that have up to date maps. It might be useful for those who are responsible for reproducing maps for South African units to start gathering the latest maps for every African country. The 1: 1 000 000 aeronautical maps are not a big problem as these can be purchased from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It is the 1: 250 000 and smaller maps that are so crucial to helicopter pilots and ground troops, that are difficult to get.


The need for an efficient communications system cannot be overemphasized. There are however, four levels of communications that need to be kept in mind.

1. Communications between units that are involved in the same mission. In this case one of the most important practical considerations is language. The South African National Defence Force must already start to recruit and or train their own linguists to accompany units in continental missions. The most common official languages that need to be prepared for are: English, French, Portuguese, Swahili and Arabic.

2. Communications between South African units and the home front. This requires secure and efficient electronic means of communications such as modern long range radios and satellite connected phones.

  1. Communications between the units and the local communities. In Africa, it might be difficult to choose a local language for communications with locals as that might be seen as an indication of bias in favour of one ethnic group. However, it is still important to have someone in a deployed unit who can communicate with local people effectively.

4. Communication to the local and international media. Whether for the better or for the worse, the media often provides the general public, political leaders and international organizations with the information they require in order to judge whether the peace - support mission is a success or a failure. It is therefore important that all communiques presented to the press describe the situation as accurately as possible and are presented in non provocative and diplomatic language.


Where a number of units from different countries have to operate together, it becomes important to know each other. The most important areas are:

This kind of knowledge is normally obtained through peacetime joint exercises with various countries and standardization of training procedures. It is also important to exchange students at Defence Staff Colleges, exchange of researchers on military Research and Development and at universities. Such joint operations as Exercise Blue Hungwe (Zimbabwe 1997 ) and Blue Crane (South Africa 1999) become very important." The kind of training required is already being offered at the Kofi Anan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, the Cairo International Peace Keeping Centre in Egypt, the SADC Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre in Zimbabwe and other centres' On the international level, standardization can also be achieved through training exercises with such programmes as the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), the French Reinforcement of African Peacekeeping Capacities (RECAMP) and the US African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA).

In addition to interoperability with other African forces, any South African unit deployed for peace support operations must be compatible with the proposed African Standby Force and United Nations peace support structures. This is so because, in the event that the mission is upgraded to a UN mission, the South African unit must be able to fit into that larger UN mission without any need for adjustment. This requirement is in fact spelled out in the African Union Policy Framework for the establishment of the African Standby Force. Operationally, standardization of equipment becomes crucial if forces have to utilize spare parts from the same source for servicing operational equipment.


In these days of international terrorism, peace-support forces do not only have to provide security to threatened communities, but also have to rely on their own security. In light of what happened to the UN offices in Baghdad, it becomes all the more necessary that units provide their own security. It is also important to avoid a situation such as happened in Sierra Leone in 2000, where UN forces were overrun by rebel forces' Policy makers must make sure that the conflicting parties understand and are party to the United Nations Convention on the Safety of the UN and Associated Personnel. Safety and security are vital not only for the personnel themselves, but for the political will of the participating countries. For the safety of the units deployed, it is imperative that they carry the best weapons and equipment available. A show offeree sometimes acts as deterrence against rebel activity against peace - support forces, but, when required to do so, peace support forces must be able to fire without missing. In line with the provision of security, the following becomes important:


Sometimes peace support units may need to erect temporary field accommodation not only for themselves, but for refugees, displaced people and any such people who may require it. It becomes important to be able to have quick access to portable shelters, light prefabricated structures, multipurpose tents, and emergency bunk beds. It is also important to have quick access to a mobile kitchen, a water purification system and a mobile hospital. Ablution facilities can always be dug up by either the deployed units or the local men. All these requirements again call for a strong civil engineering component to be part of each and every deployed peace support unit. For the civilian population being protected, most of these facilities may be provided by humanitarian organizations.
However, sometimes it would take months before an area is declared safe for humanitarian organizations to start operating.


Related to the issue of safety of units, it is important to keep in mind that many areas in Africa are heavily infested with landmines. Most of the landmines were laid by guerrillas and counter-insurgency and colonial forces during liberation wars. This means that the types of landmines and the patterns of the landmine fields are diverse and unpredictable which makes it very difficult for landmine clearance teams. So that, decades after the end of the conflicts in which they were used, these landmines are still killing people. Even though South Africa has banned the production and use of anti-personnel landmines, the Landmine Monitor estimated that in 2003, more than 30 countries in Africa are still infested with landmines. Peace support units must always have the capacity to determine the landmine status of their area of operation, and where landmine fields are detected, they must be cleared. In addition, South Africa must take a leading role in efforts to universalize the Ottawa Convention on Antipersonnel Mines in Africa during peace time and help affected African countries with mine detection and clearance equipment and personnel.


It must be noted that some African forces that might interact with South African National Defence Force units on regional, continental or international missions do so mainly because of the monetary incentives of these operations. A country like Senegal with a very small force compared to South Africa has participated in numerous peace support operations in Africa and in other parts of the world. Morale is always high in the Senegalese camp because the allowances they receive on international missions is ten times higher than that which they are normally paid at home.

In the South African National Defence Force, where the basic pay of the officers and men is not too great, it might be a good thing to use similar monetary incentives as those of Senegal in order to keep morale high in the South African camp. In this regard, it must be kept in mind that African Union and even United Nations reimbursement procedures are cumbersome and may take a long time. It is therefore important that policy makers make sure that every deployment of SANDF units must be fully provided for financially. It is better to engage the international organizations for reimbursement without the extra burden of own troops agitating for the disbursement of their allowances.


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