The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans has concluded an oversight visit to Bloemspruit Air Force Base to, among other things, assess the successes of the base and the challenges it faces.
The base is home to the locally made Rooivalk combat helicopter, 16 Squadron and Helicopter Flying School.
The Officer Commanding at Bloemspruit Air Base told the committee that the base faced various challenges, and the greatest one is its inability to service helicopters, unavailability of spares, as well as the lack of machinery to maintain hangers and runways.
The Commander highlighted the tedious procurement and administrative policies they operate under, which lead to the inefficient running of the base.
Committee chair, Cyril Xaba, said that the funding crisis facing the National Defence Force (SANDF) remains unresolved, and if the solution is not found, this “could spell disaster for the safety and security of the country”.
He said the role of South Africa in the security of the Southern African region is crucial. If the country fails to service its prime defence equipment, it could result in the country not being considered for peacekeeping missions.
The committee noted with concern that due to operational issues, the base also suffered during the truck drivers’ strike, which left the base with fewer diesel and fuel stocks.
The committee recommended better management systems to ensure that there are enough fuel stocks, as fuel is an essential component for operations for the air force to protect South African airspace.
The latest oversight visit has confirmed a string of reports and findings around the SANDF, which showed the country’s forces in disarray and disrepair.
Ministers in the portfolio have approached the National Treasury year after year to ask for more financing, warning that the defence force was on life support and leaving the country vulnerable to security threats.
Due to budget cuts, the SANDF has not been able to adequately maintain its vehicles and buildings – sometimes resorting to cannibalising other assets to get the job done. A breakdown in administration and consequence management has led to a situation where the department can’t even keep track of its assets.
An Auditor General report that leaked to the media earlier in the year found that very little had been done to manage irregular and wasteful expenditure at the department – while the army suffers from the same critical skills shortages that have hit other parts of the economy.
Presenting to the portfolio committee in October, the Department of Defence said that consistent cuts to its annual budget had removed any hope of it meetings its goals to “arrest the decline” of South Africa’s military any time soon.
The department referred to its SA Defence Review 2015 document, which plots the country’s defence strategy over the short, medium and long term – spanning 20 to 35 years.
Arresting the decline of the country’s crumbling military is the first milestone of the multi-year strategy, and this is yet to be reached. In fact, things have deteriorated, it said.