Monograph 26: Continuity in Change: The SA Army in Transition,Edited by Jakkie Cilliers


When the predecessor to the ISS, the Institute for Defence Policy (IDP) started with its projects on the armed forces in early 1991, defence issues were central in South Africa`s transformation from apartheid. At the time, there was little room for the involvement of non-state actors in the security debate. Discussions in those years were secretive and starved of information. Intimidation was rife and often brutal, as was evident from the covert campaigns that the former South African Defence Force (SADF) launched against the IDP.

While still important, defence in South Africa is no longer as crucial as it was six or seven years ago. The name change from IDP to the Institute for Security Studies early last year is but one manifestation of the shift in focus. By 1998, the public focus on defence issues is limited to sound-bytes on problems regarding discipline, arms thefts, the integration of forces, defence exports, arms purchases and retrenchments. Yet, while South Africa often lacks the type of in-depth analysis that should characterise defence issues, given the critical nature of the subject, organisations such as the ISS, can now exert a measure of indirect control and supervision through open debate, media scrutiny and academic research. The public can now also influence policy indirectly through their members of parliament, directly by participation in interest and pressure groups, or by being consulted by the government through public forums.

The process of formulating the White Paper on Defence in 1996 was characterised by such a concerted effort to achieve a national consensus on defence policy through extensive consultation with the parliamentary defence committees, political parties and civil society. This was followed by an equally consultative Defence Review where the Department made a remarkable effort to inform and consult broader civil society on its thinking and the available options. The result was, undoubtedly, a groundswell of informed support for the Department, although the real extent to which civil society could impact upon conceptual and force design debates is necessarily limited. Both the White Paper and the Defence Review process were therefore important, but inevitably the views of the core team of drafters and strategists within the Department predominated, as indeed could be expected. The major achievement of these processes, both within the broader polity and civil society, is the legitimisation of the Department. No more an instrument of racial oppression, the military is increasingly accepted and politically poised to perform its mandated policies and accept its responsibilities.

At the parliamentary level, democratic South Africa demonstrates a much greater degree of legislative oversight over the military and a clear limit to executive dictate. A comprehensive system of civil control over defence has been established in South Africa and civic education programmes have been designed and are being taught. In fact, a tremendous effort is under way to teach and inculcate a new ethos into the military.

Reforming security forces to improve accountability and professional conduct and strengthening civilian oversight are obviously crucial, particularly since armed forces by their very nature have tremendous power. The military is the sword of the state, the final resort and final arbiter. This power is intended to defend the country and its people but it may also be misused to interfere in the political process and itself present a threat to the government and citizens. Yet, professional armed forces under civil control are also a major asset to any country. They serve not only as instruments of crisis prevention and intervention, but also to further foreign policy interests, and to meet regional and international obligations. In a highly volatile region and an insecure world, armed forces remain an important component of sovereignty.

In the interests of domestic and regional stability, safety and peace, the sustainable transformation of South Africa must be underpinned by institutions capable of deterring and controlling socio-political tensions, conflict and violence. There is a very close - even intimate - relationship between peace and security. In essence, security sector reform, such as that which is evident in a democratic South Africa, should strengthen respect for the state`s legal and prescribed monopoly over the use of force. The reform of the SA Army, by far the largest of the four arms of service, is central to this.

In South Africa, the Army had always been the dominant and largest service within the armed forces. Within the former SADF, the Army was Afrikaans and conservative in nature, while the Air Force and the Navy had a much larger component of white, English-speaking officers. These two services also had a more functional approach to discipline and were more occupational in their approach to service in the military. This is a trend still apparent today, although it is undergoing rapid change. South African defence policy has also always been oriented towards a landward threat, not a naval invasion. It has also not been overly concerned with air power - although there is the dominant, if unstated view, that air power should serve to supplement ground forces in the extended African battlefield and not the other way round.

The annual SA Army conference upon which this monograph is based, reflects some, but not all these issues. The conference has now become an annual and important event during which the Army senior command staff talk to the leadership of the SA Army, and in particular, to the leadership of the Part-Time Forces. The conference on 11 June 1998 in Pretoria was no exception. In excess of 550 persons attended the event under the challenging topic The SA Army in Transition - Continuity in Change.

Rather than making a selection of presentations, we have decided to include all the papers presented at the conference in this single monograph. The papers are not of equal quality, nature or length. Collectively, they provide a snapshot of the transformation of the SA Army. The picture that emerges is not altogether reassuring and reflects, more than ever, the massive tasks that still lie ahead both at the operational level and in translating policy into practice.

The first paper in this monograph is by the head of military intelligence from Tanzania, Brigadier Derrick Mwamunyange, who addresses the issue of building regional security in Southern Africa. Brig Mwamunyange makes a plea for regional economic and political co-operation and a collective approach to security threats, while acknowledging the limitations and constraints in this process. Such an approach, he argues, should be "... based on consensus and equitable arrangements" and not, therefore, dominated by a regional power such as South Africa. His paper emphasises the importance of confidence and security-building measures, including frequent consultation, exchanges of information, a formalised system for notification of military activity, joint and regional training, etc. He does not call for a leadership role by South Africa. In fact, his paper reflects a clear perception that South African concerns will remain domestic, given the internal challenges that face the country.

Recent years have not been easy for the Department of Defence. Due to its size and nature, the SA Army faces the biggest challenge to integrate, change and downsize. In fact, one could argue that, by 1998, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) suffers from a severe case of transformation fatigue, institutional overstretch and possibly, poor role-definition. The transformation upon which the Department has embarked has now been under way for several years. Yet, it is clear from the opening remarks made by the Deputy Minister of Defence (the second paper in this monograph), as well as that of the newly appointed Chief of the SA Army (the last paper in this monograph), that the SA Army is still viewed as essentially `untransformed`. The resulting responsibility and burden on the leadership of the SA Army, are onerous.

In his paper Planning for Transformation, Brigadier General Chris Venter notes that, "[i]nternational studies reveal that not many large institutions or organisations are very successful at profound transformation, despite their good intentions ... It would appear that such failures lie mainly in the area of change management. In most cases, it will be found that the more technical aspects - designing and implementing new and sound processes, structures and systems - are well executed by competent people. The lack of success seems to be as a result of the failure by the organisations` executives to enlist employee support."

Given the apparent lack of finality on force structure evident by mid-1998, the funding crisis that the Department is facing, and the serious problems of a never-ending integration process on top of the transformation conundrum, the challenges facing the leadership of the SA Army are immense. The majority of these continue to lie within the human resources domain, exemplified by the remarks by the Deputy Minister and the expansive paper by Major General Matanzima on the human resources challenges. In fact, the impression is increasingly that transformation has gained a different content as time passes. Originally conceived as a change in policy, ethos and structure, the emphasis at the level of the parliamentary committee and much of the newly appointed command cadre, appears to be that of representivity.

General Matanzima addresses a broad canvas in his paper, ranging from the process of force integration, rationalisation, representivity, the Part-Time Forces and education. The most vexing of these must surely be that of integration and the lack of a political decision to terminate a process that has now dragged on for more than four years. With yet another `final` integration intake scheduled (for July 1998), the amalgamation of the various armed forces into a single SANDF does not appear to be close to termination while the personnel register upon which it is based, continues to expand. New integration intakes clog up the training system and demand continued expenditure on an assembly area, bridging training and related structures. Normal training and promotion are often delayed. Needless to say, planning is very difficult under these circumstances. Commentators could well ask to what extent integration has replaced recruitment, as the most important source of personnel, given the poor harvest of regular, short term and affordable recruits.

As the 1999 elections come closer, the inordinate amount of the Defence Budget that is spent on personnel and operating costs will surely not easily be reduced. It is hardly likely that the Minister of Defence will authorise the speedy implementation of the retrenchment programmes that are required to ease the pressure on the capital expenditure budget. The knock-on effect is unpalatable. Without substantial reductions in the personnel budget, procurement remains in limbo, training has been curtailed and operational capability is declining.

It is to the credit of the Department of Defence and the SA Army that clear goals have been set regarding the demographic composition of the forces. Although substantial and steady progress is being made in this regard, massive imbalances remain, with white officers disproportionately dominating all rank groups except at the rank of lance-corporal and private. Inevitably, there will therefore be a significant outflow of white, middle-rank non-commissioned officers and officers from the SA Army in the months and years that lie ahead. Given the time and funds required to train staff-sergeants, warrant officers, majors and colonels, this exit of technical skills from the SA Army will undoubtedly severely impact upon already declining standards of operational effectiveness and possibly discipline.

In response to this challenge, the SA Army has embarked upon an ambitious programme of competency development, including the establishment of assessment centres, the expansion of its existing adult basic education and the like. The challenge to retain, change and develop appropriate competencies for the future SA Army is large. While not reflected in this monograph, a recent initiative is also under way to transform the Service Corps into a placement agency to assist the social reintegration of former combatants.

The challenges in the human resources field are compounded by the fundamental business re-engineering programmes that the Department has embarked upon. In short, the Department is moving from a functional to a process-based structure and way of operating.

In his paper on the newly established Joint Operations system, the Chief of Joint Operations, Brigadier General André Bestbier motivates the acceptance of a dictum of `jointness` as central to the training and deployment of forces. Whereas the various arms of service had previously been responsible for training and the employment of forces, a clear distinction is now being made between responsibilities for force preparation and force employment. In future, force employment will be undertaken by the Chief of Joint Operations. The role of the arms of service, including the SA Army, is the provision of combat-ready forces. This theme is picked up in the brief paper on the provision of combat-ready supported forces by Brigadier General Leon Wessels. The paper is schematic in nature and links the SA Army`s planning into the transformation process already under way at the departmental level.

As part of the transformation process, planning staffs have `reverted to basics` in an attempt to design an appropriate force structure from first principles. There is therefore much talk of `user systems`, `higher order user systems`, of processes and functions and of different `user levels`. Much of the management terminology must fall hard on the ears of officers and other ranks more used to units, formations, commands and orders, and less accustomed to `management-speak`.

Eventually, the challenge of matching established units and bases with force requirements and budget constraints remains the final test. The subtext here appears to be that the SA Army planning teams have not yet been able to define their combat forces within the available budget constraints. The fact that such a lack of certainty and clarity effects morale is a moot point. Commanders - the Part-Time Component, in particular - want clarity on which units will survive, and which will close, move or contract. Within the tremendous state of flux that characterises the SANDF of today, such certainty and guidance are crucial.

Without clarity on strategy and force structure, logistic concepts are difficult to finalise, yet the paper by Brigadier General Thys Snyman provides a snapshot of thinking on future logistic concepts within the largest of the arms of service of the SANDF. His paper reflects the extensive current restructuring as the SA Army moves from logistic support in the field based on maintaining reserves on wheels (as part of B echelons) to a cargo drop system. Inventories will be decreased, working on a `just-in-time` rather than a `just-in-case` system. Such developments have sequential implications down the logistic chain and require careful management. Outsourcing and the greater involvement of civilians are key components in the thinking on these issues, but the collective impression is that the extensive changes will require considerable experimentation, research, training and management in the years that lie ahead.

The world is not only going through a `revolution of military affairs` in the technological sense, but is also being forced to rethink the nature of military professionalism and the use of forces in the post-Cold War era. At a philosophical level, much thinking is being devoted to civil-military relations in developing countries, the linkage between security and development, and between security and justice. In many of these debates, South Africa is at the cutting edge of the philosophical discourse. Yet, there are serious problems emerging in translating policy into delivery. While we are fortunate to be in a position to revisit the fundamentals of defence and security, fundamental issues of discipline, morale and effectiveness are increasingly in the spotlight.

Institutional stability within the SA Army is undoubtedly some years off, as is the final transformation of the SA Army into a disciplined, motivated and operationally effective force capable of performing its key functions. One can only hope that domestic and regional developments will afford South Africa this space.

Jakkie Cilliers
Halfway House
July 1998

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