Andreas Späth

Greening the Defence Force

2014-04-01 14:52

Andreas Wilson-Späth

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is a massive organisation with a large number of employees and considerable resources and (fire)power at its disposal. What it’s been lacking for many years, however, is an actual enemy on whom to bring these assets to bear.

I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like a waste of people’s time and a misallocation of public funds, especially considering the fact that South Africa does have several major foes that need fighting.

Look at our environmental challenges, for instance. Why can’t the SANDF help defend us against the impacts of climate change and the degradation of our natural environment?

I’ve come up with a proposal to reform the SANDF into a green fighting force with the potential to make significant contributions to protect the land and its people. Just a few thoughts – I’m sure you can dream up others.

1. Valuable property

The SANDF controls huge swaths of land throughout the country. Generals who continue to feel the need to play war games against non-existent adversaries should move their maneuvers to their nearest paint-ball arena and make the land available to local farmers.

Come to think of it, in suitable locations, the army should muster agricultural battalions to grow fresh produce (and flowers) for the population.

The rest of the land can be turned into national parks patrolled by rangers dedicated to wildlife protection.

2. Guarding our seas

The Navy will be converted into a coast guard equipped with fast ships for protecting national waters from incursions by rogue fishing fleets.

Former Navy Seals (do we even have those?) can help to protect real seals and other marine wildlife by securing the health of our existing marine reserves and by expanding them along the coastline.

3. Battling aliens

Armies of deadly professionals will scour the land with a mission to eradicate damaging invasive plant species and restoring the integrity of important water catchment areas.

4. Safeguarding ecosystems

Platoons of special forces operatives will restore and resuscitate damaged natural habitats from wetlands and dune fields to rivers and mine dumps, while keeping vigilance over intact ones.

5. Pollution busters

Legions of particularly energetic/intimidating green warriors will monitor the air, soil and water while paying frequent visits to industrial installations and reminding companies of their obligations to keep these common goods clean.

6. Swords to ploughshares

Much of the SANDF’s current hardware will have to be repurposed – tanks into tractors, war planes into water bombers, that sort of thing – the rest melted down and recycled. We’ll finally see some good come out of the arms deal.

PS: Since this is a green column, I’ve focused on re-imaging the SANDF as an institution that tackles various environmental problems. There is no reason why it couldn’t also contribute positively to other challenges we face. I can think of school book delivery squads, toilet building detachments, road construction & pot hole fixing battalions along with a dozen other examples just off the top of my head.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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