South African soldiers' lives are being put on the line when, on peacekeeping missions but hampered by obsolete equipment, they go up against heavily armed rebel armies. Army chief Lieutenant-General Vusimuzi Masondo revealed last week that there was a growing crisis in the army. Masondo was speaking in Pretoria at an annual media briefing on the state of the army.
(Image: SA Army)
Admitting that the army was facing challenges, Masondo said: "There are problems, especially around the lack of funding and old equipment, which impacts on training.
"There is a gap and there seems to be no way of closing it."
Masondo said budgetary constraints were so bad that the army was forced to refine and reduce equipment replacement projects aimed at modernising the army.
"In every sphere there are shortages. From the artillery and engineering to the infantry we face challenges," Masondo said.
He said that, adding to the crisis was the ever-increasing requirement for troops to be deployed on peacekeeping missions in Africa and on South Africa's borders.
South Africa has an estimated 1600 troops in the Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo on UN peacekeeping missions.
It has 1600 troops deployed along the borders.
"We are seriously overstretched," Masondo said.
Grinding to a halt
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said the army, along with the rest of the defence force, was grinding to a halt.
"That is the cold, hard truth," he said.
Heitman said the root of the problem was lack of cash.
"Instead of having troops training, they are deployed. These deployments are putting soldiers' lives on the line.
"They are deployed with equipment from the 1960s and 1970s against rebel forces armed with the latest tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy machine-guns."
Heitman said this country did not have enough troops though the army had pockets of good soldiers.
"It is a crisis. The situation is so bad we would not be able stop an invasion.
"In the past, we would be the last line of defence should Zimbabwe fall apart. Now we cannot even look after our borders. The wheels have come off and we cannot fulfil our mandate."
Heitman said: "There is the usual argument that we do not need all this equipment but the problem is that, in the areas where we are trying to keep the peace, the troublemakers are armed with modern heavy-duty weapons.
"It takes 20 to 30 years to rebuild a conventional force and no one can guarantee that there will not be a threat during this time."
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