Submarine tragedy a ‘wake-up call’ to government to stop slashing defence budget, says SA Navy chief
Speaking at a memorial service for three submariners, the chief of the South African Navy on Wednesday decried the ongoing maritime defence force budget cuts by the government, saying that should they continue, he feared ‘tragedies such as these will become more commonplace’.
At Wednesday’s memorial service for the three SAS ’Manthatisi submariners who died at sea off Kommetjie, Cape Town, last week, chief of the South African Navy Vice-Admiral Monde Lobese made a clarion call to the government to cease continual maritime defence budget cuts.
“I am also strongly of the opinion that this tragedy must be a wake-up call to not only us in the SA Navy and SA National Defence Force [SANDF], but to government as a whole.
“The SANDF, and the SA Navy, has for too long suffered with constant reductions in our budget. Although our budget is cut every year, our constitutional mandate is not reduced in any way. We are still expected to make miracles with the little money that we have,” he said.
Lobese was speaking at the memorial service on Wednesday morning for deceased SA Navy submariners Master Warrant Officer William Mathipa (48), Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Mojela (43) and Lieutenant Commander Gillian Hector (33), at the Wynberg Military Base Sports Complex in Cape Town.
Mathipa, Mojela and Hector died when high waves swept seven crew members of the SAS ’Manthatisi submarine out to sea on Wednesday, 20 September. The submariners were conducting a vertical transfer using an SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter when they were swept overboard.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Three dead, five rescued in SA Navy submarine disaster off Kommetjie, Cape Town
Lobese said the constant budget cuts by the government made it impossible for the SA Navy to fulfil its constitutional mandate, and the government had to decide to either properly fund the entity or reduce its responsibilities.
“Should there be these continued budget cuts, I fear that tragedies such as these will become more commonplace, and that is a toll on human life and sacrifice that will be very costly to bear, not only for the navy, but for the SANDF and the country as a whole,” he said.
“As chief of the navy, it is very difficult to lose any of our sailors or ships due to budgeting and maintenance challenges.”
The Department of Defence has a budget of R51.1-billion for the 2023/2024 financial year, which is slightly lower than its 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.
In line with cost-saving measures implemented by the National Treasury across government, the Department of Defence’s 2023/2024 budget is expected to be cut by R1.9-billion.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA Navy to probe submarine disaster off Kommetjie, but stresses safety measures were adhered to
Speaking to Daily Maverick last week, Tim Walker, a maritime project leader and senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said that the SA Navy was the smallest of the SANDF branches.
“It receives the least amount of funding per year,” said Walker, who explained that the South African Army received the most, followed by the South African Air Force, the South African Military Health Services and last, the South African Navy.
“It does strike a lot of people as strange that we have some very sophisticated equipment … maintaining [it] is very costly, and that is something we need to start prioritising.”
The total maritime defence (SA Navy) budget for 2023/2023 is R4.9-billion, while the total air defence budget is R7.1-billion, and the total military health services budget is R5.4-billion. Landward defence has the biggest budget of the branches for 2023/2024, at R15.7-billion.
On Wednesday, Lobese echoed Walker’s comments, saying that the defence force, and in particular the SA Navy, was a “technologically driven service”.
“In the navy, we do not equip the man, but we man the equipment.
“This means that in order to be relevant and effective, our equipment must be of the latest and most modern design. This costs money, not only to procure but also to maintain. We have these vessels that we are doing our best to look after, but we need the money to maintain them effectively,” he said.
Commenting recently on Department of Defence budget cuts, African Defence Review director Darren Olivier told defenceWeb, “Further cuts without substantially reducing the size, missions, and mandates of the SANDF will have extremely serious consequences.” DM
Read our report on the memorial held for four SANDF soldiers killed in a car accident in Upington, Northern Cape in the same week. South African army mourns loss of four soldiers in road accident outside Upington