The Portfolio Committee on Defence, having undertaken a study tour to De Aar (97 Ammunition Depot) and Bloemfontein (Air Force Base Bloemspruit, Tempe Military Base and the Army Support Base) on 5 and 6 October 2004, reports as follows:

1. Introduction

Aim of the oversight visit

2. De Aar - School of Ammunition and 97 Ammunition Depot

2.1 Background

Colonel N Majola, Officer Commanding* (see appendix 2) of the 97 Ammunition depot and Major-General Binda, the Chief of Joint Support briefed the delegation. The Department of Defence (DoD) acquired large quantities of ammunition during the 1970s and 1980s. Most of this ammunition was not used and are currently stored in De Aar, Jan Kempdorp and Naboomspruit, the major ammunition depots of the DoD.

South Africa dumped ammunition in the ocean until 1995, when international conventions and agreements prohibited such practices, as well as the transportation of hazardous material over national borders.

2.2 De Aar : 97 Ammunition Depot

The depot consists of 186 magazines that houses different types of ammunition. It is the size of 29 rugby fields and has a 49km rail network. The depot is secured by a high voltage fence, detection alarms, X-ray machine, metal detectors, a monitor room and surveillance cameras. There are currently 78 000 tons of obsolete and unserviceable ammunition at the three depots of which 23 000 tons are at De Aar. The percentage of unserviceable or obsolete ammunition and serviceable or usable ammunition are respectively 67% and 33%. The guaranteed shelf life for shells and pyrotechnics are 10 years and for small arms ammunition 20 years. Ninety percent of the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) ammunition is however older than 20 years. The depot is approximately 7km from the town and 400m from a farm fence, which raise noise pollution, safety and health concerns.

The open burning and open detonation methods, as well as the incinerator used at De Aar are environmentally unfriendly, labour intensive, expensive and a danger, not only to the personnel, who are not trained disposal professionals, but also the neighbouring community. It would take 34 years for the DoD to destroy its unserviceable ammunition in the conventional manner, i.e. open burning and open detonation.

The DoD is investigating the feasibility of erecting an ammunition disposal plant, which could address the backlog of ammunition to be disposed of in 7 to 8 years. The plant could also be used by other countries in the region and this could assist in controlling the proliferation of small arms, including explosives.

After its visit to the ammunition depot the delegation would like to make the following recommendations:

3. Air Force Base Bloemspruit

3.1 Air Force Base (AFB) Bloemspruit

The delegation was briefed by: Major-General Ngema (Chief of Air Planning), Brigadier-General L Payne (Director of Helicopter Systems), Colonel P Johnson (Officer Commanding of AFB Bloemspruit) and Lieutenant-Colonel Reynolds (Officer Commanding of 16 Squadron*). The South African Air Force (SAAF) provides an air capability to the defence force, through basic flying training at Langebaanweg, helicopters at Bloemspruit, transport aircrafts at Waterkloof and fighter aircrafts at Hoedspruit and Makhado.

The air force base was established at Bloemspruit (15 km from Bloemfontein’s city centre), because of the geographical location, i.e. the dry climate, generally low aviation intensity and the proximity to the army’s major bases and live weapon ranges. The uncluttered airspace is also conducive to host national and international air and parachute training and exercises. This base has a symbiotic relationship with the civilian airport at Bloemfontein, as it uses the civilian airport’s runway, communication system and approach aids. As such it does not have these maintenance costs and only pay landing fees. It also shares the fire service equipment with the airport.

The recruitment and retention of pilots, air traffic controllers, technicians and engineers are challenges to the SAAF. The SAAF recruits the youth at science expositions, schools and universities. It also assists countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to increase the training of pilots. There is an international trend to move beyond psychometric testing, because high scores in these tests, is no guarantee that the individual is ‘pilot-material’.

Representivity is difficult to address in the SAAF, because Bloemspruit does not have enough black pilots (for example) on its basic and advanced helicopter training courses. It does not receive enough students, who completed their basic flying training at Langebaanweg. In addition some students leave the air force to pursue lucrative careers in the private sector. It was added that some black students failed at Langebaanweg, but passed at other SADC training centres, which indicated that the training methods or instructors at Langebaanweg were not sensitive to the different backgrounds of the students.

Gender representivity is another challenge, because the engineering and technical musterings are not attractive to females. It was however indicated that 5 out of 8 people on the engineering course were black and that 80% of the technicians at the rank of airman to flight-sergeant were black. It is a slow process, because it takes three years to qualify as a technician.

Gen Ngema informed the delegation that as the head of the National Aviation Academy*, he approached the Departments of Education and Labour to fund the recruitment of youths and students into the defence force. It is important that recruitment should start with the right ratios so that the desired representivity balance can be achieved.

Bloemspruit fell historically under the Bloemfontein Army Support Base for certain services (transport, repairs, fuel, uniforms, etc), but the air force decided to support its own units during 2004, because the systems of the two services* were incompatible. Discipline and morale are high, due to the open door policy of the officer commanding (OC). The personnel would increase next year from 560 to 600 or 700, because the Augusta 109A helicopter* will start its technical trials this year. It will then be followed by operational trials.

3.2. 16 Squadron (Rooivalk Attack/Combat Helicopter)

The operational design drivers for the Rooivalk attack helicopter are firepower, survivability, limited ground support, mobility, payload, range and all weather operations. It was made for low level flying to provide air support to ground forces with its air-to-ground missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets and a 20mm canon.

Twelve helicopters were delivered to the SAAF, but the weapon systems and certain tests, e.g. advanced night flying and electronic warfare self-protection system are still being integrated. The project experience certain risks, i.e. the restructuring of the main contractor (i.e. Denel) and the challenges of recruiting and retaining the skilled personnel of the Denel and the SAAF.

Even though the first experimental models appeared in 1995/96, the Rooivalk compared favourably with other attack helicopters. It is however difficult to sell the Rooivalk, because arms sales are political and the Rooivalk still has to complete its weapons testing to proof that capability. It needs funding to continue development and the renewal of technology. The sub-systems of the Rooivalk are selling well, which is proof that there is a role for the Rooivalk and that the project should be completed. Funding of R200million per annum for development and R40million per annum to operate (of which R10 million for missiles) are needed over three years.


4. Tempe Military Base

4.1 44 Parachute Regiment

Col O Mhatu (OC of 44 Parachute Regiment) and Brigadier-General L van Scalkwyk (Chief of Staff of the Infantry Formation) led the briefings. The Parachute Battalion was formed in 1961 and in 1998 it received its ‘baptism of fire’ in Lesotho during Operation Boleas. Eight paratroopers died in this peacekeeping operation. In 2001 this unit became 44 Parachute Regiment and spearheaded South Africa’s peace support deployment to Burundi. Col Mhatu is the third black officer commanding (OC) of this unit.

The mission of the Regiment is to provide "combat ready airborne or parachute forces" for the SANDF by providing training to all four services*, supervising parachute safety and by maintaining parachute equipment. It also provides training to other countries and support during courses and operations. The Regiment’s challenges are representivity (race, gender, geographical), age and training.

The Regiment consists mostly of White officers. The first black OC was only appointed in 1998. It is hoped that the military skills development system (MSDS)* would address the representivity imbalance. There are however no posts for MSDS members, which meant that they had to return to civilian life. The delegation was also informed that there is a lack of female recruits due to the toughness of the training.

Even though there is a backlog of 4000 corporals that had to receive training for promotion, these courses would be cancelled as there were too few Africans for the courses, which may mean that the promotion policy should be reviewed to overcome this dilemma.

The average age of troops on external deployments is 30-35 years, with one 53-year-old troop. The OC stated that after its initial deployment in Burundi, the Regiment became the reserve unit of the Chief of the SANDF, whereafter they could not deploy to gain further experience and extra income. A suggestion of a stand-by allowance of R25/day was made to prevent members joining other units that were deploying.

The delegation was introduced to the regiment’s team that won the "Airborne Africa Combat Readiness Competition", which is a premier international parachuting competition. The team beat 16 European, Asian and African countries, which included the United Kingdom.

4.2 1 SA Infantry Battalion

The OC, Lieutenant-Colonel Mokhosi briefed the Committee. The role of 1 South African Infantry (1 SAI) Battalion was to prepare the mechanised (or wheeled) capability of the South African army. It also provides ‘support to the people’ by assisting the police during internal deployments. The unit deployed 205 members with 15 SAI to Burundi and 62 members to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It also deployed internally to Pongola in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The mess facilities and the lecture halls, which could accommodate 2000 members, were in a good condition. Of the 26 bungalows, 11 are in a satisfactory condition, but 15 are in a poor state as they are unoccupied, because many of the members live off the base.

There are 1019 available posts, but only 747 are filled , with 42 unstaffed* personnel. There are more Whites and Coloureds in management positions (Staff-Sergeant to Lt-Col) and less Africans than is prescribed by the Defence Review. There are 95% Africans in the lower ranks and no Asians in general at 1 SAI. Females form 2% of the personnel.

The delegation was informed that members are unstaffed, because they are area-bound, i.e. the members do not want to move to another unit as they would move away from their families. Sometimes the member does not qualify for a post due to the specific requirements of the post, i.e. he/she is too old, did not pass the requisite military courses or does not have the necessary academic qualifications. The onus is currently on the member to transfer.

The OC stated that there were no racial tensions, only tensions of transformation due to the emphasis on representivity targets. Major progress has however been made since the racial tensions in 1999 and the SANDF leadership should be commended.

4.3. Group 36

The OC, Lt-Col Neethling briefed the Committee. The mission of Group 36 is to provide combat ready area territorial reserve units or Commandos. The unit is jointly responsible for the Free State province with Group 24. Group 36 and two of its Commandos are however to be closed by 31 March 2005. The other 14 Commandos of Group 36 would move to Group 24.

The group has certain personnel challenges, i.e. members have qualified, but cannot be promoted, as there are no available posts. Members are not accepted on courses for promotion, as they are too old or not from the correct former force, race or gender, even if they already serve in the higher rank.

The unit also has accommodation problems. They are renting from private individuals (farmers) and companies (Telkom), which make security of tenure difficult. The unit also reported positive aspects, i.e. there are no ministerial inquiries or redresses of wrongs and the number of ‘absence without leave’ (AWOL) was very low at two cases.

It is difficult to downsize the supernumeraries, because of the cost implications for the member and the organisation; (1) the spouse may not have a job in the new area, which will decrease the joint income and (2) it will increase personal transport, accommodation and medical costs if the members stay more than 60km outside the base.

4.4 Armour Formation

Brig-General Geldenhuys, Group Officer Commanding (GOC)* of the Armour Formation of the South African army briefed the delegation. The mission of the formation is to prepare and provide combat ready armour forces. The formation consists of a Formation Headquarters in Pretoria and the School of Armour, 1 Tank regiment and 1 Special Services Battalion in Bloemfontein. It also has reserves force units in other parts of the country.

There are 1779 approved posts with 1120 staffed and 659 vacant. There are 110 females (i.e. 10,7%) in the formation of which 58 are in combat roles.

The human resources challenges of the formation are :(i) understaffing due to few appointments from the military skills development system (MSDS), (ii) natural attrition of 35 members per annum and (iii) the poor health and high age of personnel.

The formation has funding problems, which are endemic of the army as a whole. The formation headquarters receives R117 million of which 93% was spent on personnel and 7% on operating. The formation was successful to spend 100% of its budget the last four years. Most of the equipment is under preservation as a small amount is used for operations and training. Armscor is in the process of selling obsolete equipment, to lower the costs of maintenance. The current Olifant tank (initially a World War 11 British Centurion tank) had its final upgrade and a replacement will have to be found.

The formation was deployed internally at the Lesotho border as infantrymen and riflemen in order to keep the troops active.

4.4.1 School of Armour

The OC, Col A Retief briefed the delegation. The School of Armour educates, trains and develops competent personnel for the South African Armoured Corps. The staff complement, which includes three supernumeraries* is 193, with 85 Africans, 88 Whites and 20 Coloureds. There are 176 males and 17 females.

The unit deployed seven individuals to SANDF external deployments. Highlights for the unit are; (i) the opening of the K53 vehicle yard test facility and (ii) the armour team won the Grand Prix and Africa trophy. The unit was the joint winners of the Winter Sports day, which could be ascribed to the fact that 93% of members contributed to the SANDF Sport Fund.

The challenges are (i) the insufficient technical support from the Army Support Base (ASB), which may lead to the cancellation of courses and (ii) the unreliability of the computer system, which negatively affected training administration. Other challenges are (iii) the lack of proper female accommodation, (iv) the availability of uniforms and clothing and (v) the maintenance of buildings.

Lt-Col S Carroll (curator of the armour museum) took the delegation through the outside displays of the museum in Lesakeng (Sotho for ‘corral for the old horses’), which was a roofed structure that housed retired wheeled and tracked armoured vehicles. These vehicles were collected from all over the country. The structure is an ongoing concern and was privately funded.

4.4.2 1SA Tank regiment

Lt-Col Nondala, the first black OC, briefed the delegation. The mission of the regiment is to provide a combat ready tank capability to the armour formation. The unit was formally established in 1999 and Mr Tito Mboweni, Governor of the Reserve bank is the unit’s Honorary Colonel.

The unit’s structure is a ‘type 38 regiment’, with 2 tanks at regimental headquarters and 12 tanks each in the three operational squadrons. There are also support squadrons and tank transport squadrons. The C (or third) squadron was deployed from April to July 2004 along the Lesotho border and received praise from the Tactical headquarters, police and the farming community. Another squadron will be deployed from December 2004 to March 2005. Several members of the unit are also deployed in the DRC as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping force and in Burundi as VIP protectors.

The unit trains jointly with the reserve force units to enhance the ‘one force’ concept, because the reserve force is the expansionary capability of the SANDF in times of national defence. There is however only a small percentage of active reserves, because training call-ups are limited, due to budgetary constraints.

There are 724 available posts, but 335 are staffed and 389 vacant. The highest shortage level (75%) is experienced at the level of troop.

The rank distribution per group is officers - Africans (15), White (22) and Coloured (5) and warrant officers - Africans (1), White (12) and Coloured (2). This is an indication that management is dominated by Whites, which is contrary to the percentages set by the Defence Review, i.e. African (64%), White (24%), Coloured (11%) and Indian (1%).

The serviceability of the vehicles are as follows; 87% for armoured vehicles; 65% for personnel and transport vehicles; 67% for forklifts and tractors; 59% for sedans, bakkies and 4x4s and 36% for tank transports.

The unit believes that sport is important to bridge the divides between people and that it will enhance cohesiveness. Currently 92% of members contribute to the SANDF Sport Fund. The unit achieved 2nd place in the inter-unit athletics tournament and 3rd place in the Winters Sport day (without the C squadron, which was deployed).


4.4.3 1Special Services Battalion

The unit was established in 1933, which make it the oldest regular force unit in the SANDF. The mission of the unit is to provide combat ready armoured car user-systems to execute armour and multi-role tasks for the army. The unit trains personnel with armoured cars (i.e. Rooikat and Ratel) and missile squadrons, provide course support to the School of Armour, provide support to reserve force units and participate in internal operations.

The unit consists of a Regimental headquarters and six squadrons, none of which are fully staffed. The concurrent health assessment* delivered the following results; green (211 members), yellow (150), red (102) and incomplete (44). ‘Green’ refers to members that are totally healthy, ‘yellow’ refers to members that have to rectify a minor health impediment to be qualified ‘green’, ‘red’ refers to members that have serious health impediments and are unlikely to move to yellow or green, while ‘incomplete’ refers to members that did not complete or started the health assessment. Green members are eligible for external and internal deployment, while yellow and red are only eligible for internal deployment. The United Nations (UN) specifies explicitly that soldiers should be HIV negative for UN missions.

The OC believes that ‘red’ members should not be deployed, as extra care has to be taken to protect the fragile health of the member. This could jeopardise the mission. The medical conditions of ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ members are only known by the medical sister of the unit to maintain confidentiality. She and not the OC would then provide medical advice to members before deployments.

The unit has many vacant posts and needs 300 and not 20 MSDS members from the army. Five members of the unit died during an internal anti-crime deployment (Operation Intexo).

The serviceability of the unit’s 270 vehicles is at an average of 50%. A 4x4 bakkie sustained damage of R90 000 during Operation Intexo and was put on the unserviceable list. The SANDF does not insure its vehicles and the unit would have to repair the vehicle from its own funds.

The challenges of the unit are: (i) the maintenance of buildings, (ii) empty buildings as some members lived off the base, (iii) poor water drainage system and (iv) insufficient members to maintain the unit lines and security. The unit addresses these challenges through the establishment of ‘do-it-yourself’ teams, which seal off or demolish unused buildings and upgrade the security fence.

The unit also uses sport aggressively as a force preparation tool, with 90% of the members contributing to the SANDF Sport Fund. The achievements include ‘Sport unit of the year’ for the last two years and an unbeaten record for 2004, as well as positive coverage in the local newspapers of, especially its successes during internal operations.

4.4.5 Army Support Base

Brig-Gen M Moadira, GOC* Support Formation and Major-General Loubser (Joint Support Division) briefed the delegation. The aim of the unit is to provide support services to 50 different units of the SANDF in its area of responsibility in the Free State province. The services include transport, uniforms, fuel, etc. The unit needs more vehicles (sedans, bakkies, 4x4’s and buses) to satisfy its own transport needs and those of other units, due to the lack of functioning vehicles.

Representivity is a challenge, because the ranks Colonel to staff-sergeant (i.e. management) are overwhelmingly White. There are 6 disabled members and eight unplaced members. The unit also has three auxiliary* force members that have 20, 22 and 29 years of service, respectively. These members have an uncertain future, because they have no pension, receive minimum benefits and have no chance of promotion, due to their age and lack of courses completed.

The army is overpopulated and spent 81% of its budget on personnel. It needs a general exit mechanism. A unit’s allocated budget is lower than the tabled budget as it may happen that funding is taken from one army unit to fund another unit or service.

The security is a challenge as the electric fence is not in a good condition, the security lights are not sufficient and the guards should be supplemented with a security alarm.

The average member does not know much of civil-military relations, because it is a higher-level function. They however do know the Department of Defence’s code of conduct, the ‘rules of war’ and the relevant Geneva Conventions. The delegation was informed that the military justice system is very slow, due to the unavailability of High Court judges and senior military judges.

Funerals are another challenge for the unit, because 665 military personnel died in the August 2003 to August 2004 period in the ASB’s area of responsibility. This high number of full military funerals places pressure on the unit’s budget and the personnel that has to perform funeral duties. It was suggested that only ‘death on duty’ should be the criterion for full military funeral.

5. Recommendations

(AFB Bloemspruit, Tempe Military base and Army Support base)

The delegation believes that many of the challenges are not restricted to one service, but are generic of the SANDF. On that basis the delegation wishes to make the following recommendations:

  1. the staffing process should be reviewed so that it addresses supernumeraries, promotions and representivity.
  2. certain categories of staff, which have scarce skills should receive incentives so as to retain those skills.
  3. a proper policy to recruit women should be applied, because it was the lack thereof and not the toughness of the training that resulted in a gender imbalance.
  4. initial appointments and transfers of personnel should be compassionate and should take the needs of the individual and the SANDF into account.
  5. the establishment of an exit mechanism and the re-skilling of members who plan to enter civilian life.
  6. the recruitment of young soldiers through the military skills development programme necessitates the availability of posts and funds so that representivity and gender targets of the Defence Review can be achieved.
  7. the safety and professional standards of the parachute regiment should be maintained by the (i) servicing and (ii) replacement of old equipment.
  8. the appointment of a military ombud should be investigated to provide an independent channel for aggrieved SANDF members.
  9. military justice should be fast-tracked, because ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
  10. the military funeral policy should be reviewed.
  11. the logistical and technical support, as well as the information and technology systems of the units, should be streamlined and/or upgraded.
  12. funding for the Rooivalk should be clarified, especially if its capability was required by the SANDF, so that stability can be achieved in the supply side of human resources and components in the defence industry.
  13. the armour capability of the army should be modernised, as certain platforms, especially the main battle tank (MBT) have reached the limit of upgrades. However the MBT capability should be investigated in relation to the Defence Review.
  14. there should be clearer guidelines for virements in the middle of the financial year and these should not be arbitrary and capricious.
  15. the maintenance and upgrading of facilities, especially living quarters need to be urgently implemented.

6. Acknowledgement

The delegation would like to thank the Ministry of Defence, General Officers and Officers Commanding for the professional manner in which they received and briefed the delegation. The frank discussions informed the delegation of the true state of the defence force and it would assist Parliament in providing the necessary monitoring to the Department of Defence. The Committee however feels that it is not always necessary for very senior officers and officials to brief the Committee.

7. Formal adoption of report by the committee

This report of the oversight visit to 97 Ammunition Depot, Tempe Military base, Army Support base and the Bloemspruit Air Force base, having been put to the committee, was adopted on Monday, 17 January 2005.

Report to be considered.



Composition of the delegation

The Portfolio Committee on Defence delegation consisted of the following members: Prof K Asmal, MP-ANC (delegation leader and chairperson of the Committee); Mr MS Booi, MP-ANC; Dr GW Koornhof, MP-ANC; Mr SB Ntuli, MP-ANC; Mr OE Monareng, MP-ANC; Mr R Shah, MP-DA; Mr VB Ndlovu, MP-IFP; Adv C Johnson, MP-NNP; Mr G Campher (staff), Mr ET Lourens (staff) and Mr M Zamisa, Parliamentary Officer of the Department of Defence.

Ms V Daniel of the NCACC* and Mr B van Staden of Armscor accompanied the delegation to De Aar.




Arms of Service (or services) of the SANDF

South African Army

South African Air Force

South African Navy

South African Military Health Services

Military Skills Development System (MSDS)

It is the recruitment of post-matric applicants for military training, initially for two

years. Thereafter the person can opt for a military career or return to civilian life.

Unstaffed personnel or Supernumeraries

This is personnel that is extra to the approved human resource structure, i.e. they have

no post designation.

Auxilliary force member

The SANDF consists of the regular force and reserve force components, but the Minister

of Defence, has the authority to form an auxiliary force, as and when required for specific tasks. The auxiliary force members are poorly educated individuals from all racial

backgrounds, who did menial work. They wore uniform, but have no ranks. They are being phased out, but there are about 100 left, who have not yet reached retirement age.

National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC)

It is a cabinet sub-committee that monitors and authorises the export of

conventional arms. It always chaired by a Minister whose line function is not security.

16 Squadron

This air force unit prepares the Rooivalk attack/combat helicopter capability.

August 109A helicopter

It is an Italian light utility helicopter that is part of the strategic defence packages.


The officer commanding a unit (i.e. regiment, squadron or battalion)

Group Officer-commanding

The officer commanding a group of units or formation (e.g. the infantry formation)

Concurrent health assessment

It is a comprehensive health assessment that assesses the soldier’s physical, mental and psychological health status.

National Aviation Academy

Matriculants (with mathematics and science) are enrolled for a year to learn flying. It provides a stepping-stone to join the SAAF.




1SAI - 1 South African Infantry (battalion)

AFB - air force base

ASB - army support base

AWOL - absent-without-leave

DoD - Department of Defence

DRC - Democratic Republic of the Congo

GOC - group officer-commanding

MBT - main battle tank

MSDS - military skills development system

NCACC - National Conventional Arms Control Committee

OC - officer-commanding

SAAF - South African Air Force

SADC - Southern African Development Community

SANDF - South African National Defence Force

UN - United Nations

VIP - very important person

VIPP - very important person protector

Military Ranks

Lt. Col - lieutenant-colonel

Col - colonel

Brig.Gen - brigadier-general

Maj.Gen - major-general

Lt. Gen - lieutenant- general

Gen - general

Political Terms

MP - member of Parliament

ANC - African National Congress

DA - Democratic Alliance

IFP - Inkatha Freedom Party

NNP - New National Party