So many Questions: Roelf Meyer
Former defence minister Roelf Meyer has just completed a defence review. Chris Barron asked him ...
Did it tell you anything you didn't know already?
There were certain things that we were not necessarily aware of.
Such as? The challenges we have to meet with regard to managing the defence force. I'm talking about peacekeeping operations, border protection as well as maritime, offshore, protection.
If these are the challenges, and you say there is little likelihood of a conventional military threat, is the present size of the defence force surplus to needs? Is it too big?
No, it is not too big.
What portion of the defence budget goes on salaries?
Is that sustainable?
In certain areas yes, in others not.
In what areas not?
You can't fly aircraft if personnel costs in that division are too high.
There's an underprovision for operational costs.
Meaning not enough money for pilots?
And the answer?
It's about redirecting some of the budget. It doesn't help if we have the planes, but not the pilots or the fuel to fly them.
What areas would be ripe for budgetary redirection?
You can't generalise.
Do we have too many soldiers?
We don't necessarily, no.
How well trained are they?
We looked at that and, quite frankly, we have raised very serious concerns about the level of training. Also the matter of discipline.
Would we be able to defend ourselves against Zimbabwe?
We can defend ourselves against any potential threat that might come from the continent. But that is not the point. We have to meet our obligations as to what we have to do as a defence force first domestically, that is protecting our sovereign borders and ensuring that life inside South Africa is safe and secure ...
You mean helping in the fight against crime?
Not directly, because that is the responsibility of the police, and we must keep it that way because that is a constitutional requirement.
You refer to 'prioritising support for the police services'. What does that mean?
That is in the case of disaster or an extraordinary event, for instance 2010 [World Cup].
So it's not a reference to aiding the police in the fight against crime?
Not directly. It should not normally operate in crime situations unless specifically mandated by the president as provided for in the constitution.
Such as patrolling the borders to stop stock theft?
Absolutely, but that is a function that has been transferred to the defence force.
Is it already active in the fight against poaching?
We are already deployed as far as rhino poaching is concerned.
To what effect, given how bad it still is?
This is an operational matter which is not for us to pronounce on. But the anti-poaching the defence force is involved with is on our border areas. Rhino poaching is happening all over the country, at the moment, in areas where the defence force is not deployed.
Why not? That might be something the chief of the defence force and the minister might consider. My personal view is that this is a national asset that is really under serious threat, and therefore the defence force should be mandated to take care of it.
How well equipped is the defence force to meet the challenges you've identified?
In certain areas we're well equipped and in others not. For example for the offshore protection of our coast line, mainly anti piracy activities, we have to increase our capability.
Does the equipment procured in the R70-billion arms deal serve a useful purpose here?
It was not part of our review at all to look at past acquisitions.