South Africa


Inside the SANDF plan to spend R55,000 per soldier on new uniforms

Inside the SANDF plan to spend R55,000 per soldier on new uniforms
Illustrative image | Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on 3 August 2021 in Mbekweni, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard) | iStock

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is in financial trouble — with ageing hardware, weaponry and uniforms. But even though South African soldiers’ gear is overdue for an upgrade, eyebrows are sure to be raised at the proposed price tag: almost R55,000 per soldier for the new kit.

Appearing before Parliament on 7 June 2023, Major-General Sean Stratford gave MPs an update on a project which has been in planning for the past few years: the upgrade of South Africa’s military uniform.

But although the plan to procure fresh army uniforms is not news, the proposed price tag very much is.

Stratford told MPs that the projected “costing for full roll-out” would amount to almost R3.5-billion. His presentation specified that there are currently 55,173 soldiers to be clothed, including reserves, which means that the cost of the new uniforms per soldier works out to close to R55,000 per person.

The roll-out of the new uniforms is only projected for the fourth quarter of the 2025/2026 financial year.

The Department of Defence and the SANDF did not respond to Daily Maverick’s repeated requests for comment over a two-day period this week.

Old uniforms: Uncomfortable and unfriendly

In Stratford’s parliamentary presentation, he laid out some of the problems with the existing SANDF kit. Of particular concern are the current soldiers’ boots, which are presenting challenges, including poor waterproofing, “hardening of the leather when dried after getting wet”, and failed stitching, meaning that the heels easily detach from the soles.

Then there is also the problem that the “wearing of the boots for extended periods results in fatigue of the feet”.

Stratford acknowledged in his presentation that multiple items of the old uniform were still available for use, including 31,000 pairs of trousers and 34,669 short-sleeved shirts. These items were procured before 2012, however, and are “either too small or too big”.

In June 2021, when news of the planned uniform upgrade appears to have been first reported, one of the other issues attributed to the old uniform was that its fit was not “female-body-profile friendly”.

At the time, the Mail & Guardian reported that the military uniform improvement project was aimed at “restoring the dignity of the army to its rightful glory”.   

The biggest reason for the wardrobe redo, however, seems to be that of civilian impersonators.

SANDF camouflage, Stratford’s presentation records, has been “exploited by the citizens of South Africa using it as a fashion cloth in their clothing designs, thus tarnishing the image of the SA Army”.

It adds that “the camouflage uniform has recently become a commodity amongst hunters and military collectors as it became available for sale on eBay, an online commercial platform”.

As a result, the CSIR was called in seemingly to help develop a new SANDF camouflage pattern, as well as to resolve the old uniform problems.

The emperor’s soldiers’ new clothes

Stratford told Parliament that the new kit needed to be:

  • Able to provide protection against battlefield threats;
  • Lightweight;
  • Able to stand the test of time;
  • Able to maintain its shape without the need to be ironed;
  • Of colour which does not fade;
  • Able to withstand degradation when stored for many years;
  • Made of material and dyes which are readily available;
  • Repairable; and
  • Affordable.

It is possible that the proposed new uniform meets all of these criteria except the last one.

The DA spokesperson on defence, Kobus Marais, told Daily Maverick this week that the R55,000 price tag per soldier was a big concern, and one that he has raised.

“It obviously doesn’t make any sense to pay R55K, and I’ve challenged them. They admitted it seems high and they’ll come back on that,” Marais said.

The new SANDF uniform. (Photo: Supplied)

African Defence Review’s Darren Olivier stresses, however, that the need for a new uniform is not imaginary.

“I do believe that a new textile and new boots were long overdue. The original Soldier 2000 kit was designed in the 1990s and has not been optimal in the conditions in which SANDF troops operate, particularly the harsh conditions in the DRC and Mozambique. 

“There are issues with weight and movement restriction after getting waterlogged, too much time to dry compared with newer textiles, and fading and other premature wearing out of items,” Olivier told Daily Maverick.

Olivier points out that one soldier has multiple items of clothing making up one uniform: 1x bush jacket, 2x long-sleeved shirts, 2x short-sleeve shirts, 2x long pants, 1x cap, and 1x bush hat. This is together with a cold-weather coat and rain suit — though these are issued “sparingly”, Olivier says — and two pairs of boots.

“However, the quoted total cost is still surprisingly high, and given how much this will cost and how much uncertainty remains, it definitely deserves closer scrutiny. At the very least, I would hope that Parliament’s Defence Committee requests a full breakdown,” Olivier said.

How much do soldiers’ uniforms cost elsewhere?

It is difficult to directly compare the costs of clothing soldiers internationally, and Olivier notes that very big armies — like that of the US — are able to benefit from “huge economies of scale when procuring items”.

But from the available information, it still appears that a price tag of R55,000 per soldier is extraordinarily high.

The US Government Accountability Office reported in 2021 that the cost of US Army uniforms was between $1,600 and $2,400: between R29,600 and R45,000 at today’s rand/dollar exchange rate.

The old camouflage, and the new. (Photos: Supplied)

In 2014, the British Ministry of Defence replied to a request for information on uniform procurement by stating that it had spent £15-million on 1.2 million combat garments — which works out to an astonishing £12.50 (about R295) per garment. It is, however, unclear how many garments each soldier would require. That figure also did not take into account the cost of boots, which were priced separately at roughly £25 each (almost R600).

Olivier says it is certainly possible to procure much cheaper camouflage uniforms.

“If you’re willing to go for a standard pattern and low-quality textiles, it cost the US approximately R1,500 for the camouflage tops and pants it bought for Afghan National Army soldiers. However, skimping too much on such a critical piece of a soldier’s kit has its own cost in reduced combat effectiveness and morale.”

SANDF already in financial dire straits

In the case of the SANDF, this volume of expenditure is certain to be questioned, given the parlous state of the army’s finances in general. Years of overspending on salaries means that there is precious little money available for the maintenance of essential mission equipment.

As many have pointed out, there is a dark irony in the fact that the SANDF’s already inadequate budget continues to be slashed — while soldiers are increasingly required for significant domestic deployments, such as guarding power stations and peacekeeping in areas with high levels of gang activity.

As Daily Maverick reported in August 2021, soldiers deployed to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng following the so-called Zuma riots were on the verge of abandoning their posts due to sheer hunger after not receiving adequate food rations for weeks. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    Yes, but remember. You have to allow the cadres to eat a little at trough.

  • Samantha Vandersteen says:

    I wonder which Cadre is getting this tender?
    Seriously though, the boots are extremely expensive – upwards of R2500 a pair so I get it, but even if they bought each soldier 2 pairs of boots, there is no way the rest of the uniform is going to cost R50k, unless they’re throwing in a rifle too

    • Iam Fedup says:

      Why 2 pairs, Samantha? I did two years of national service and an additional hundreds of days of 3-month camps with one pair that still serves me well. And I’m 67 years old right now. “We all have to eat,” said Gordhan, and “I didn’t join the liberation movement to stay poor,” retorted another political gangster.

  • Hester Dobat says:

    Yet another sorry tale of neglect and incompetance. And hefty costs that raises suspicion. I think someone in history once commented – you can’t run an army on an empty stomach. How safe is SA? How strong is our army? And how are the defenders of our country, trained, housed and fed? Is this quote just the tip of another iceberg about to be revealed?

  • Hector Kingwill says:

    Surely the supplier should reduce his prices for such a big order? Oh, I forgot, this is RSA where the suppliers [cadres] raise their prices whenever an order like this appears on the horizon.

  • Johan Buys says:

    In addition to the US uniforms being half our price tag, soldiers there also replace their own bits and pieces that they either lost or got too fat for.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    What’s the point of being in Government if you can’t inflate tenders?

  • Christopher Bedford says:

    Just another episode in the ongoing soap opera of ANC-led mismanagement.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Blatent graft.

  • Dr Know says:

    Go back to the old browns. Hard wearing, unique, simple. Marburg Manufacturers. Cheap too.

    • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

      Mmmm…I tend to agree. Someone should send the rocket scientists in charge on basic root cause analysis training. As an example: The assorted riffraff get hold of army uniforms for private use as poachers or hunters or rave participants, notwithstanding the alleged bad quality, fit and the like. Instead of either allowing or preventing that, we change the army uniform to something of higher quality and then we reckon the aforementioned riffraff will not be interested in the new product.

      I admire the fact that this country is still standing considering the complete lack of critical thinking by our leaders.

      • Johann Olivier says:

        Not to mention that browns/khaki are the perfect uniform for SA & its landscape. In fact, with some west coast exceptions, Africa is more dun-coloured than not. Maybe have a depot of ‘special’ camo uniforms for potential service in greener, more ‘jungled’ environments (though what we’re doing there, heaven alone knows!)

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    Louis Vuitton must have got the tender.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Is Giorgio Armani providing the suits and gear??? Imbeciles!!! What a complete waste of taxpayer’s money when there are so many other real pressing needs!! Pit toilets, poverty alleviation etc etc. Only in SA or any other banana republic can this type of criminal nonsense take place.

    • Barry Messenger says:

      Well, ignoring the certainty of the cadre premium built into the costs, keeping the army properly equipped is also a real need IMHO.

  • Alastair Moffat says:

    Follow the money to the pot of gold in some grubby cadre’s clutches.

  • David JONES says:

    The comment “SANDF camouflage, Stratford’s presentation records, has been “exploited by the citizens of South Africa using it as a fashion cloth in their clothing designs, thus tarnishing the image of the SA Army”.” Many years ago it was illegal for un-authorised individuals to wear camouflage .

    The items that are failing should prompt a supply chain review, with appropriate consequences.

    The pricing / supply chain should be subject to deep scrutiny .

  • Rick Astley says:

    Maybe they want them to look like Wagner mercenaries, for when they have to control South Africa’s rebelling population.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Contract is probably going to the same mob who provided the Olympic uniforms at inflated cost. Wasn’t Mbalula involved in that scandal?

  • Rod Murphy says:

    It has to be a scam with some people getting very rich. I was previously an SADF soldier AND a clothing manugacturer !

  • Ginny Swart says:

    Probably they do need a new uniform but the first question you have to ask yourself is, who got a tender for all this? Is there anyway to follow this money and air it to the public?

  • Gary Palmer says:

    Really! Why is it that the SANDF have to do their laundry in public? Is the “uniform” not a basic provision, besides gourmet meals, that a National Defence Force of any nation, budgets and provides for?

    That “poor uniform” has to become public knowledge of how poorly the SANDF is run, is rather worrying. Should there have been terrifying neighbours, we would have been up sh1t creek without an oar!

    The SANDF need public economic defence to dress and feel comfortable!
    Pass the hat around please!

  • Conroy Fourie says:

    André de Ruyter writes about crooks and Eskom. For example, a power station, 1 of 15, was burning 43 per cent of all the fuel oil purchased by Eskom. Questions about the reasonability of this statistic were fobbed off via smoke-and-mirrors responses by managers in the plant. André de Ruyter stopped the corrupt setup relating to an oil deal for this power station from siphoning off R1,2 billion annually from Eskom into the hands of crooks. The senior manager who assisted de Ruyter now walks around with a permanent bodyguard and wears a bulletproof vest. Elsewhere de Ruyter notes that procurement officials were not constrained and could pay R51 for a refuse bag, which retailed for R2.99, and in another case, Eskom paid a supplier over R1 million for unsupplied stock. Eskom handed over culprits to law enforcement with substantiating evidence of wrongdoing. Such culprits either received bail for as low as R500 or the authorities never prosecuted them due to vanishing case files. At an Eskom work function off-site, the venue could not serve food individually plated because this opened the door to poisoning. Reading the book and now this SANDF spending plan gives me a sense of what it must have been like for those passengers on the Titanic in Third Class when they realised they could not get to a lifeboat. Similarly, de Ruyter notes the fight against the crooks was like holding back a tsunami with his bare hands. It is time for me to reread Viktor Frankl’s classic book on hope.

  • Walter Bodin says:

    “hardening of the leather when dried after getting wet”, and failed stitching, meaning that the heels easily detach from the soles.
    Well that tells a story on its own. Were these sourced in our dear Peoples Republic of China.

    • Anne Fischer says:

      Doubt that any South African will benefit from this in terms of supply or work – just the ANC dudes scoffing at the trough … and made in China, Brazil, India …. or, heaven forbid, Russia!

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    Which MoP is related to the manufacturer of the uniforms?

  • Andrew Treu says:

    R55k sounds excessive, but let’s break it down. Army soldiers are issued with 4 sets of uniform: combat dress, office dress, ceremonial dress and sport dress. I may have forgotten some items but this will give an idea. Combat dress has the following items: 2 short-sleeve camouflage shirts, 2 long-sleeve camouflage shirts, 2 camouflage trousers, 1 bush jacket, 1 cold weather jacket, 4 short-sleeve vests, 2 long-sleeve vests, 2 sets of gloves, 1 balaclava, 1 scarf, 1 towel, 4 pairs of thick socks, 2 pairs of combat boots, 1 beret, 1 camouflage bush hat, 1 web belt, and ranks and badges. Office dress has the following items: 2 short-sleeve shirts, 2 pairs of trousers, 1 cold weather jacket, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of shoes, 1 belt, and ranks and badges. Ceremonial dress has the following additional items: 2 long-sleeve shirts, 1 tie, 1 pair of trousers, 1 jacket, 2 pairs of socks, 1 cap, 1 set of gloves, and ranks and badges. Sport dress has the following items: 2 vests, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of socks, and 1 pair of running shoes.
    Most of the above items are not mass produced and will therefore be more expensive. Extra expenses are to accommodate the fact that various sizes have to be kept in stock and that combat uniform items can be swapped out every second year. All other items can be acquired by soldiers using their annual uniform maintenance allowance for that purpose, which items must still be held in stock.
    So, let’s be realistic – R55k may not be far off the mark.

    • Shaheen Biseswar says:

      Given this;
      Is this from a single source supplier and what are the volumes granted to this single source supplier. If it is not a single source supplier, then surely this can be split between multiple suppliers. Lets say nike running shoes, adidas socks, Under Armour caps, K-Way jocks, Victoria Secret Panties, etc.

  • Alan Paterson says:

    I think Malusi Gigaba should have a say in any design. He is a snappy dresser of note and probably has the right connections,

  • Fiona Ronquest-Ross Ronquest-Ross says:

    Thank you for opening up this conversation. I am shocked to hear the army couldn’t afford to feed and clothe its employees. I personally would hate to endure damp, broken boots while fighting in a jungle. It is a workplace health and safety issue. But this price tag is astronomical.

    This is an ideal situation for a public-pricate partnership – if we can sort out excellent school uniforms then we can tackle this. Just needs some creative thinking and collaboration.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    Just follow the money & all will be revealed as always half a truth to hide the scam. Yes they need the kit but THEY need the money

  • It does not matter how many types of uniforms a soldier needs or gets. R55000 is utter bullshit! There is corruption here on a grand scale.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Reminds me of when SAA was hijacked by the comrades circa 1995, and they paid Errol Arendse R1million just to design the “new” uniform. Not to produce any, mind you, just to design them. And, I might add, rather poorly, because what he didn’t consider was that the majority of the hostesses were, shall we say, rather delicately, portly in the midriff area.

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