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Can South Africa ever become Africa’s military superpower

South Africa has big plans to expand its involvement in Africa.

Photo: Institute of Security Studies

Photo: Institute of Security Studies

To implement these, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, has a vision and a 400 page Defence Review to guide her in developing the capabilities of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to match the national, regional and continental role envisaged by cabinet and the Presidency.

Yet she will need support and additional funds: quite a lot of it too, judging by the recommendations in the review.

While the border security mission presents challenges in terms of present force levels, equipment and funding – up to R1 billion extra will be required to fully equip, deploy and sustain a further 11 companies for deployment to the border, as the minister intends.

The minister has reiterated the main responsibilities of the SANDF, which include, among others, defending and protecting South Africa, safeguarding its borders and infrastructure and promoting peace and security in Africa.

South Africa’s regional role thus remains central to policy, the only question being to which level this is to be pursued.

In this regard, the Defence Review’s baseline of three long-term battalion or combat group peace support operations is derived from an assessment of government’s intent and on past experience.

For several years, South Africa had battalions in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Darfur simultaneously, plus a brief battalion-strength deployment in the Comoros.

The minister also referred to the five milestones proposed in the Defence Review as the basis for planning.

These are to arrest the decline of the SANDF; to rebalance the force by reprioritising; to ensure capacity meets current needs; to develop capacity to meet future challenges and to build the strength to deal with a limited war.

The fifth only becomes relevant in the event of a major strategic shift, but the first two fall within the current five-year medium-term strategic framework.

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