BUDGET VOTE DEBATE
Minister of defensive — Thandi Modise repeats ‘We put fokol’ on Lady R mantra as MPs demand answers
Modise again shot down accusations that South Africa loaded arms on board the Lady R in December 2022, in Parliament on Tuesday.
“I will reiterate what I said: We put fokol on that ship,” said Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise in Tuesday’s debate on the Defence Budget Vote.
The Minister said she had welcomed the “President’s calling for an inquiry into the matter of Lady R”, and that all necessary documentation would be made available in the inquiry.
The Minister’s statements came in response to questions from the opposition.
Earlier, DA MP Kobus Marais had questioned who had granted authorisation for Lady R to dock at Simon’s Town naval base, in December 2022.
Read in Daily Maverick: Lady R in South Africa
Marais put it bluntly: “Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: the irrational Russian love affair”.
“Ammunition imports and exports happen via official Portnet ports of entry. Authorisation was granted to the Lady R, a Russian commercial vessel, to bypass commercial ports and abuse our naval base instead.
“Unrestricted access was seemingly allowed for offloading and reloading cargo, during the midnight hours of 6 to 8 December, with little or no control on the naval precinct,” he said.
Marais described the clandestine operation at Simon’s Town naval base as “a major national security breach.”
“Who authorised this, and why?” he asked.
“With the 2019/2020 import permits for the Russian ammunition still valid, something was loaded onto the Lady R. Was it ammunition? If not, release the vessel’s cargo manifest to confirm this.”
Marais warned the Minister that the longer she stayed silent, the more damage to the country’s international image, investments and trade interests — such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) — and economic prosperity.
Read in Daily Maverick: SA’s ever-closer ties with Russia jeopardise R60bn in annual exports to US under Agoa deal
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) also raised concerns about the docking of the Lady R in Simon’s Town.
“The question is, what was loaded on and off the ship during the midnight hours. If it was innocent, release the cargo manifest. Ongoing silence on this issue threatens very important trade relations with the West,” said ACDP MP Steve Swart.
Delivering her budget vote speech, Modise said the DoD has a budget of R51.1-billion for the 2023/2024 financial year. This is slightly lower than its previous budget for 2022/2023, which was R51.6-billion.
The defence allocation for 2023/2024 represents 2.28% of South Africa’s total expenditure of R2.243-trillion.
“We have set aside R30.6-billion for compensation of employees, because this still leaves us underfunded by R2.6-billion, if you count the actual boots on the ground,” she said.
“Due to the underfunding of the cost of employment, we are likely to be over-spending by R3-billion in the current financial year.”
The spending on compensation of employees (CoE) has been an ongoing concern for the DoD in recent years, as the DoD has been unable to stay within the CoE ceiling of the National Treasury, with significant over-expenditure.
“The ceiling remains largely un-implementable, contributes to irregular expenditure and impacts heavily on the country’s defence capabilities,” said deputy minister, Thabang Makwetla.
“The committee’s budget report we are moving today expresses its concern to the Cabinet in this regard, and calls on the DoD and the National Treasury to urgently find a feasible way forward in dealing with the CoE,” said Makwetla.
He said that the joint standing committee on defence and the portfolio committee on defence have taken an “unprecedented step”, to write to President Cyril Ramaphosa to bring to his attention the “serious situation that the SANDF is facing.”
Consistent with the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, the National Treasury has agreed to additional funding of R1.4-billion over the medium term to “upgrade SA navy frigates and submarines”, said Makwetla.
Additionally, the National Treasury has allocated additional funding of R1-billion in 2023/2024 to strengthen the country’s airlift transport capability, he said.
“The committee noted the need for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to remain a technologically advanced force, and advocated for the increased use of technology on South Africa’s border as a force multiplier,” said Makwetla.
The National Treasury has agreed to additional funding of R500-million in 2024/2025, and R200-million in 2025/2026 to procure equipment and technology to aid the safeguarding of borders.
“A defence force is an important foreign policy tool in any nation, and South Africa is no different… The SANDF contributes to regional security through its participation in two external missions in the DRC and Mozambique,” said Makwetla.
In 2023/2024, South Africa will maintain a total contingent of 957 members deployed in the DRC, and 1,495 members in Mozambique as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) peacekeeping mission.
According to Modise, the mission in the DRC will receive R1-billion in 2023/2024, while the mission in Mozambique is allocated R850-million. DM