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Submarine tragedy a ‘wake-up call’ to government to stop slashing defence budget, says SA Navy chief

Submarine tragedy a ‘wake-up call’ to government to stop slashing defence budget, says SA Navy chief
Chief of the Navy Vice-Admiral Monde Lobese. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

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



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    yeah, the girl in command got the job,
    because she was paid less.

  • John Buchan says:

    Slashing budget = ANC stealing.

  • Gary De Sousa says:

    Budgets had nothing to do with this disaster.

    • Bick Nee says:

      Exactly! Why were they doing military exercises in 10 metre swell? Why were the personnel not clipped into safety lines? Were they wearing life jackets? Many more questions to be asked and answered than blaming budgets.

  • Walter Spatula says:

    Did budget cuts wash the sailors off the deck of the submarine?

  • Johannes b says:

    Navy 4.9
    Air 7.1
    Land 15.7
    Health 5.4
    Sum 33.1
    Total Budget 51.6

    The article does not offer an answer where the remaining 18.5billion go.
    And if it goes to the ministry…maybe THAT is where they could cut cost most effectively.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    WTF – on what planet does a poor judgement call and poor planning equate to a need for more money?

    I know sir! I know sir! It’s planet ANC!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Whilst Vice Admiral Lobese is best suited to comment on the budget cuts and its effects on operational abilities etc., the tragic incident has nothing to do with it and trying to link the two is disingenuous to say the least. The real issue here is that the deaths were avoidable and completely unnecessary. Had the navy heeded the dire warnings about the forthcoming storm and extreme weather conditions, which was common knowledge, this wouldn’t have happened. It was an exercise and not an emergency. Furthermore, had all the safety precautions been in place, contrary to what they say, it wouldn’t require the NSRI to come to the rescue. My point is that laying the blame for these terrible deaths on budget cuts is total nonsense!! Learn from your mistakes and respect Mother Nature!

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Spot on Gary
    Great article Victoria, thanks.
    Following safety protocols and responsible leadership have nothing to do with the budget.
    Said differently, if the safety protocols could not be adhered to because of budget constraints, then leadership is responsible for deciding whether the exercise should commence knowing that leadership will be accountable, yip accountable.

  • Confucious Says says:

    As usual, there has to be a crisis first. Forget proactive planning and spending. Just forget it! Sad that it takes dead bodies for the anc to open its eyes!

  • Janette Klein says:

    I’m still a bit confused. Seven swept overboard. Three dead and five rescued makes eight ?

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Time to prioritize! Cut the subs 100%. Don’t need them.
    Reduce the frigates to two. Sell excess vessels.
    Turn Scala Battery area into economic housing for local workers. Not only Navy. Make it a comprehensive township, schools, hospital etc.

    Reduce the numbers in the Navy. Retire excess admirals and senior officers, there are far too many.
    Tighten up on the Navy skills.
    Get them to remove all perlamoen poachers. Who are getting the kickbacks here?
    Supply crews to the NSRI.

    Keep half of the Simons Town harbour for the Navy, other half convert for cruise ships, fishing and small merchant ships. Replicate a compact Cape Town Water Front.

    Include a comprehensive training school for fishing and merchant crews.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Second thoughts on Simons Town…

    Do NOT supply crews to the NSRI. They are already proven world class, don’t want to dilute them!

    Cooperate with the NSRI. Boats/berths/slipways/coms/volunteer crews.

    Do this in ALL NSRI/Navy bases in SA.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    No, the problem is exactly the same we see on the roads in the behaviour of taxi’s, the behaviour of most politicians and the employees of their departments and every Tom, DIck and Harriet with a weapon. No law, rule, protocol, tradition or whatever, is applicable to them. Since 1994, some members of the population now all of a sudden knows everything.

    Wonder if these were the first deaths of submarine crew members in the Navy’s history?

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    Budgets having nothing to do with your competency to lead and command.

    Exposing your fellow sailors too what your ships captain did is simply gross negligence….watch the footage of your ship wallowing and bucking in a violent sea and high winds, and get back to us as to how “money” could have changed that poor decision of your command staff on duty at the time.

  • Rencia Cloete says:

    Oh please! What does budget have to do with this!!
    Just another trough feeder.
    Absolutely disgusting using this tragedy to call for more money!

  • griffiths.donald says:

    This is pure buck passing and accountability dodging. As head of the SA Navy this guy takes ultimate responsibility. Watch as he, the Head of the SANDF and the Minister of Defence dodge and weave as they get scrutinised and asked difficult questions. The families of the deceased should sue for gross negligence.

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