The Ceasefire Campaign once again joins hundreds of organizations representing literally millions world-wide commemorating the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.
South Africa’s allocations to defense spending appear low in comparison to amounts allocated to education, social services, health and other more pressing needs. However, this does not take into account the ongoing costs of the arms procurement deal of 1999 for which we are still paying and which is currently the subject of a commission of inquiry. The debt is owed by the Department of Finance not Defense, and therefore the amounts are excluded from defense figures.
It is a critical time for South Africa’s new democracy as we face an election 20 years down the line. Constant dissatisfaction with the pace of delivery to the poor and continued inequality will be foremost in the minds of the electorate as they go to the polls.
We acknowledge that the democratic government when it came to power in 1994 was faced with a colossal challenge to right the wrongs brought about through the despicable and inequitable system of apartheid. Notwithstanding this, South Africa would have been in a more satisfactory situation today if government had steered clear of the ill-fated arms procurement deal in its early years.
According to National Treasury, in evidence given at the Commission of Inquiry into the deal, the debacle cost R46.666-billion, financed with loans from foreign banks, with loan costs totaling R51.3-billion. However, it is believed that this is understated and is probably more in the region of R70 billion or more but no-one really knows the real cost. Revealingly, the more than 500 pages of documents released by Treasury were called back a few days later on the spurious explanation that they were classified.
Now it seems that we have learnt nothing from that early experience. Cabinet has approved a defense review document compiled by people intent on increasing military spending and who use every opportunity in forums and the media to argue that the armed forces are in decline and South Africa needs to increase its defense spending.
The defense review, and argued strenuously by committee member and unabashed militarist Helmoed Heitman, proposes an increase in military spending that will ultimately reach 2.4% of GDP. Often touted by those who stand to gain financially by increased expenditure as an appropriate level approved by the World Bank and IMF, the 2% benchmark has never been advocated by these institutions. It is rather seen as a warning that the economic wheels are likely to fall off if a country exceeds 2% of GDP over an extended period. We fear the Defense Review 2012 pushes the increase to double the opportunities to fleece the taxpayers and for corruption. Apartheid South Africa bankrupted itself because of excessive military spending, hence the debt standstill in 1985. Post-apartheid South Africa continues to be overly committed to military spending in contradiction to the clear commitment to human security contained in section 198 (1) of the Constitution regarding the principles guiding national security.
As we know, the warplanes are in storage because SA hasn’t the pilots to fly them, the mechanics to maintain them and even the money to fuel them. Pilots have abandoned the SAAF for higher pay with commercial airlines, plus they do not get enough flying time to maintain their proficiencies. The frigates and submarines rarely leave Simonstown, and one of the subs has been on the hard since 2007 for “routine maintenance” since the wrong power supply was connected to the batteries and blew the entire electrical system. Despite that reality, the defense review advocates buying more frigates.
Hopefully the public will become more aware of the downside of the recommendations of the latest defense review when it reaches Parliament and insist that further outlay on the military and arms will not be in their name.