25 April 2000

South Africans, and the world, have been amazed in recent months by the skills and bravery of our helicopter pilots. They have doused the mountain fires here in the Cape, and then rescued people from the floods in Mozambique. A few years ago they rescued all the passengers and crew from the sinking cruise ship Oceanos.

These "collateral" uses of defence force personnel and equipment bring into question: what is the purpose in the 21st century of the South African National Defence Force? The purpose of the military throughout recorded history has been to fight wars -- either to defend or to extend the authority of the sovereign and/or the state.

International wars of aggression are now prohibited by international law. Two recent examples of the Argentine/British war over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas Islands) in 1982 and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 rebounded against the aggressors. The wars which afflict Africa are (with the exception of the Eritrea/Ethiopian conflict) are intra-national rather than inter-national in character. They are driven by a grab for resources (diamonds, oil, timber etc) by warlords, as illustrated by the tragedies of Angola and Sierra Leone.

The military establishment attempts to justify its existence by arguing that the world is a dangerous place. Your committee is obligated to ensure that the military does not make our world even more dangerous.

South Africa is constitutionally committed to a "defensive" military posture and, thanks to our geographic position, there is no conceivable foreign military threat to our country's security. Only the United States even has the capacity to attack South Africa, and is absurd to base our defence strategies and expenditures on the need to deter an attack by the United States.

Moreover, the inter-dependence of the international community including economic development is now very significantly more important to the defence of national sovereignty than military security. For instance, the apartheid government spent tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions of rand on nuclear weapons and other military equipment and personnel to defend itself. South Africa's economy has been one of the world's disaster stories because of the resources expended on military security.

Yet the greatest single blow against apartheid is considered to have been the decision in 1985 by Chase Manhattan Bank in New York to withdraw its loans to South Africa. The thought that the apartheid government might have retaliated against Chase Manhattan Bank with nuclear weapons is utterly absurd and laughable.

My point is that the very purpose of the defence force must be drastically reconsidered.


It has been recognised for centuries that armies without foreign wars to fight are politically dangerous. The Lesotho Army may be militarily insignificant, but within Lesotho it periodically intervenes in government and also has the capacity to terrorise the civilian population. The history of Africa since independence has been that of military dictatorships. Our government is now taking the lead against such dictatorships.

In order to divert the military from intervention in politics, governments have endeavoured to keep them busy in international peacekeeping operations. Particular pressure has been applied by the American and British governments for South Africa to take over the role of military peacekeeper for Africa. Indeed, the South African National Defence Force during the Defence Review saw its role and the very purpose of its existence as being military peacekeeping. That justification has already proved mis-founded, and been discredited.

The international experience, and South Africa's own experience in Lesotho, has been that military peacekeeping is a contradiction in terms. Military interference vastly compounds and prolongs matters of political conflict. British involvement in Northern Ireland, the United Nations in the Congo during the 1960s, and Nato's intervention in Yugoslavia illustrate the point.

Even more pertinently, Zimbabwe's intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo has had disastrous economic and political repercussions back in Zimbabwe. Even the proponents of a South African peacekeeping force have anticipated the contingent of troops committed to peacekeeping operations at only 2 500. A questions that arises is that if peacekeeping is to become the primary role of the SANDF, why would 60 000 personnel be required to support

2 500 peacekeepers?

Our government, thankfully, has kept South Africa out of the DRC quagmire, and has rethought the justification of the SANDF as being the peacekeepers of Africa. South Africa has wisely focussed upon diplomatic mediation rather than military intervention.

Former President Nelson Mandela declares:

no problem is so intractable that it cannot be resolved through talk and negotiation rather than force and violence. Peace is found through compromises based on recognition that common interests are more important than differences.

A further consideration is that international military peacekeepers must be tested and confirmed to be uninfected by HIV/Aids. The sad reality is that between 25 percent and 60 percent of SANDF personnel are infected by HIV/Aids. South Africa is, in practicality, ineligible to provide troops for international peacekeeping operations under United Nations auspices.

Policing Powers for the SANDF

The South African Constitution declares in the governing principles pertaining to Security Services (Chapter 11):

198a National security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life.

198d National security is subject to the authority of Parliament and the national executive.

These sections of the Constitution recognise that matters of human security relating to people -- issues of housing, education, health service, jobs, freedom from crime -- are far more important than traditional notions of military security relating to states. Similarly, the Defence Review accepted the premise that control over the military by civil society, including financial control, is fundamental in a democracy.

With no prospect of foreign attack upon South Africa and the realisation that foreign peacekeeping operations are unlikely, the SANDF establishment is therefore obliged once more to justify its existence and the expenditure of public financial resources on equipment and personnel. It therefore proposes that SANDF personnel should be given policing powers to support the South African Police Service.

This submission accepts that the transformation of the SAPS has been a disappointment, and that massive restructuring of South Africa's policing is imperative. Emergency circumstances in areas such as Richmond in KwaZulu/Natal (where the police were apparently actively involved in instigating violence) have necessitated the use of troops.

South Africa's experience during the 1980s was that the use of troops in the townships was disastrous. Never, never again! As a consequence, the 1995 Defence White Paper held that use of troops for policing operations was undesirable, and should be discontinued as soon as possible. The proposal to give policing powers to the SANDF should be rejected. It essentially is a proposal to apply the discredited foreign military peacekeeping operations within the domestic context of South Africa.

1. The purpose of the military is war, not peace. Soldiers are trained to shoot first and, perhaps, to ask questions later. The military culture is totally inappropriate for a civilian function in society such as policing. South Africa is already one of the world's most violent societies, a legacy of the militarism of the colonial and apartheid eras.

2. The personnel numbers within the SANDF are being reduced from approximately

130 000 to an intended 60 000. The purpose is a "lean and mean" technologically-advanced SANDF, the consequence being that the lesser-educated personnel (essentially those of the non-statutory forces) are being retrenched in order to pay for sophisticated imported armaments for the Navy and Air Force. These retrenched personnel are then likely to compound South Africa's unemployment and crime problems.

If, as argued above, there is no foreign military threat to South Africa and foreign military peacekeeping operations are also discredited, then the very purpose of the SANDF in the 21st century must be questioned. Most certainly, even the reduced number of 60 000 troops is too many, and the danger of political misadventures must be considered. These numbers should be further reduced by transfer to the South African Police Services.

3. South Africa requires a respected and effective police service in contrast to the militarised and politicised police force inherited from the apartheid era. The present SAPS is woefully understaffed and ill-equipped. Adequate resources and personnel must be provided as a matter of urgent priority. This could include the transfer of surplus military personnel to police training, but a civilian culture must be inculcated into such personnel before they assume police duties.

Police personnel are essentially community-based, their effectiveness depending upon how well they are accepted by and assimilated into the local community. By contrast, soldiers are brought from elsewhere to suppress an emergency situation. This has a particular relevance in South Africa given the high incidence of HIV/Aids within the SANDF. Soldiers away from home are much more likely to spread HIV/Aids than police who live with their families in the community.

In conclusion, helicopters have useful "collateral" functions to fight fires and in flood relief. The emergencies in the Cape and Mozambique have highlighted the need for investment in civil defence. Churches and church buildings are similarly often useful as emergency shelters in times of disaster, but they are not built for that purpose. The Service Corps has proved that soldiers are not good teachers. Soldiers are not policemen.

South Africa desperately needs an effective police service. We need civilian personnel, well trained and resourced for that purpose. We are deluding ourselves if we think that the military can do the job. Your committee is the Parliamentary instrument to ensure that the military is subordinate to civil society in our democracy. It must ensure that the military does not usurp the role of the police.

If the military has no purpose in 21st century South Africa, then it is the duty of the Portfolio Committee on Defence to rethink the role of defence, and to make it relevant to the people of South Africa.

Terry Crawford-Browne