Defence expert says Maphwanya's background makes him the perfect choice for the chief of the SANDF at any time, but particularly now.
With a stint in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Special Forces and as chief of the Joint Operations (JOps), experts believe new army chief Lieutenant-General Rudzani Maphwanya is impressively armed to lead an SANDF crippled by budgetary cuts.
Last year, The Citizen reported how budget cuts had sent the SA Air Force (SAAF) into a tailspin, with experts warning of its imminent crash as its ageing aircraft gathers dust and crew lose qualifications due to a lack of flying time.
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In May, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula admitted her department was in chaos because of budget shortfalls, lacking financial resources for its defence mandates per the 2015 defence review.
This week President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the appointment of Maphwanya as chief of the SANDF, Major-General Wiseman Simo Mbambo as chief of the South African Air Force, Major-General Siphiwe Sangweni as chief of joint operations, Major-General Thalita Mxakato as chief of defence intelligence and Major-General Ntshavheni Maphaha as surgeon-general.
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Defence expert Helmoed Romer-Heitman said Maphwanya’s background made him the perfect choice for the chief of the SANDF at any time, but particularly now.
He, however, said top of his priority list should be to explain to the government that the time to take tough decisions on defence had come.
“I think he needs to explain to the government in words of one syllable that they will be able to understand, that the time has come to take hard decisions on defence. Either find the money or wind back ambition,” Romer-Heitman said.
He said with the defence force, Maphwanya should look at finding ways to improve both intelligence and special forces capabilities, as they are the first defence line. He should also consolidate combat services and shrink the supporting divisions and services.
“He will also need to pin the government down on the issue of the defence industry. If they want that capability, they need to find the money for the defence force to buy equipment and part-fund research and development. Alternatively they need to decide to let the industry die and accept the consequences,” Romer-Heitman said.
He has said budget cuts were so dire there was not even enough ammunition for training, let alone enough equipment for border and maritime patrols.
Military expert Darren Olivier, director of African Defence Review, agreed that Maphwanya had a long and respected service history, including much time spent on the operational side.
He said the new army chief brought a fresh set of ideas and policies with him.
“It will take him a bit of time to settle in and shift things in the direction he wants, especially as General [Solly] Shoke was in the post for about 10 years, but I am confident he will do well,” Olivier said.
Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute For Security Studies, said his view was limited as he was yet to study the background of the new Military Command Council appointees.
He, however, said all except Maphaha, seemed to have an ANC military wing uMkhonto weSizwe background.
Cilliers said he would wait and see whether the appointees would continue with the culture of non-political partisanship that the outgoing army chief sought to instill.