Pirates to make SANDF walk the plank?

2011-03-05 00:00

THE South African National Defence Force (SANDF) should more accurately be named the South African National Defunct Force. After all, it has soldiers who it cannot deploy, ships that it cannot sail and aircraft that it cannot fly.

So let's not get too excited about the news that the navy is despatching a force off Madagascar to guard against plundering Somali pirates. The battle-tested pirates are probably licking their lips at the prospect of adding a nice, new shiny frigate to their growing fleet of hijacked vessels.

The South African military, once hated but nevertheless feared, is now merely derided for its incompetence and ill-discipline.

A South African army that once held off the "rooi gevaar" in Angola now mostly blunders about with its trousers around its ankles — old, fat, diseased, unfit and hard of hearing.

South Africa has the oldest infantry troops in the world. In 2005, the SANDF reported that 23% of the troops were HIV-positive and that deafness and clinical obesity each claimed another quarter of the army muster.

Last year, the SANDF told a parliamentary committee that "no humane exit mechanism" could be found to get rid of these troops. That left the military in a position where it has troops but cannot use them.

But hell, it all helps with the unemployment statistics.

HIV-infection in the army has been estimated to be as high as 40%, but no one knows for sure. Snippy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said recently that she would no more oblige soldiers to divulge their HIV status than she would ask Democratic Alliance shadow minister David Maynier, who posed the question, how many of his own family are infected with the HI virus.

What one does know is that the army cannot account for 82 000 weapons, almost 20% of its armoury, and that employing these absent-minded lard-arses soaks up some 60% of the army and navy budgets.

One of the three new R1,6 billion submarines, the SAS Manthatisi, is already out of action. A sailor plugged it into the wrong dock power point, frying its circuits. The Manthatisi was damaged further when it hit the quay and it is unsurprisingly taking an early overhaul, which means in won't be operational before 2013.

This all happened in safe harbour. One can only imagine what hurt these sailors could inflict on themselves in open waters. The most cost-effective option might be to pump the subs full of helium and deploy them as barrage balloons around Parliament.

Then there is the South African Air Force (SAAF), which like the navy and the army, suffers from severe underfunding, so for years it has been unable to meet its strategic objectives for air combat capability, transport and maritime surveillance.

Simply put, it doesn't have enough pilots

— fewer than half of those needed for the 25 Gripen it is getting from Sweden.

And even if it did, the SAAF lacks the maintenance skills to keep the planes in the air. And, even it had the skills, it doesn't have the budget for the requisite flying hours.

So instead of burning fuel, vastly increased use is being made of flight simulators as an alternative. That is great news if the SAAF's next air war can be arranged with the enemy to take place at a downtown Pretoria video arcade.

This disturbing picture of the SANDF's capacity to protect the country's borders is understated.

Since the overweeningly arrogant Sisulu has become minister, the trend has been to hide as many as possible of the SANDF's failings behind the catch-all cover of "national security".

Ah, well. At least, the pirates will find Durban more salubrious than Mogadishu as a base.

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