ABOLISH THE ARMY
The death of Collins Khosa has raised new questions about what purpose the army serves — other than to guzzle money SA doesn’t have
When a corrupt, defunct, ill-disciplined and inherently violent institution is used to police a country, human rights abuses are inevitable. The death of Collins Khosa was the direct result of using the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to enforce civil regulations.
According to the auditor-general, R5.13bn out of the military’s R50bn budget in 2018 cannot be accounted for. Over the past five years, an unapproved R900m was spent on Cuban mechanics to fix vehicles manufactured in SA by Denel. And, in the past financial year, the generals spent R20.5m of public money on luxury cars.
To make it worse, sexual exploitation and abuse are also rife within the ranks. Last year, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-nqakula said she was “aware of the rampant cases of [these] incidents internally in deployment areas, as well as in the working environment. These are kept under wraps by the commanders.”
Defence expert Greg Mills estimates that only 10% of the SANDF’S 76,000 personnel are medically fit to be deployed. The average age at the SANDF is between 40 and 48. Expensive arms deal fighter planes, frigates and submarines are parked in hangars and docks because of a chronic lack of fuel. Much of the military’s equipment is obsolete or broken.
Military theorists have a solution: double the SANDF’S budget and reorganise combat services.
Writing in defenceweb, Helmoed Römer Heitman argues the model for the SANDF should be “the German army between World War 1 and World War 2”.
I have a better idea: getting rid of the entire SANDF. It’s a better solution than spending money we don’t have on something we don’t need.
Instead, the SANDF’S budget could be spent on disaster management, emergency medical services and upgraded clinics and hospitals.
Ultimately, militaries are dedicated to one thing: slaughtering people. An army is an institution created, at great expense, to commit immoral and heinous acts that have no place in the modern world. The 100% guaranteed way for a country to prevent its army from killing and assaulting children — war always falls heaviest on civilians — is not to have an army.
Moral philosophy has moved on from the old ethic, popular around the 8th century BCE, that virtue consists of glory in war.
One of philosophy’s true heavyweights was rather sceptical of war. In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle argued that only defensive wars are just. In our geopolitical situation, this is irrelevant anyway: no-one is going to invade us, not even hyper-expansionary Lesotho.
The truth is that the real threat to our safety is not from external forces, but from each other. We don’t need Rooivalk attack helicopters; we need social workers, detectives, prosecutors, a working prison system and a functioning economy.
The SANDF is collapsing and unless we invest heavily — for which there are zero funds — there’s no hope for it. Better to sell off the Gripens, give the troops early retirement and save money. Militaries don’t create wealth, they consume it.
As for peacekeeping, we no longer have the aircraft to deploy troops and equipment north of the border. Nor do we have the ability to reinforce our troops. The 2013 debacle in the Central African Republic resulted in the fall of the Bozize government and soldiers coming home in coffins.
Contrary to government propaganda, the SANDF hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory on peacekeeping missions. Allegations of and convictions on sex crimes have dogged the army’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for decades. In a 2015 article entitled “An Army of Sex Pests”, The Times reported that the SANDF was the worst offender of genderbased violence of all the peacekeeping forces in the DRC. And this happened in a country where mass rape was used as a weapon of war.
About R27m worth of military hardware went missing during the SANDF’S 2006 deployment in Burundi. Some of the weapons ended up in the hands of the FNL Phalipe-hutu rebels who were attacking the largest city, Bujumbura, at the time.
If we’re brave enough to imagine it, there could be a different role for SA on the continent, and one that doesn’t involve hurting children (as our soldiers were convicted of in the DRC).
Civilian populations in war zones or suffering from natural disasters need doctors, water specialists, food aid and emergency services.
Let’s provide that rather, there and at home.
Taylor is an associate at Stellenbosch
The SANDF was the worst offender of gender-based violence of all the peacekeeping forces in the DRC
University’s department of philosophy
Or you could be SA, where the economy has been destroyed by theft and looting under former president Jacob Zuma. Then you have a pretty decent guy like Cyril Ramaphosa being elected. Only, the man is shackled by his party, its recent history, his own comrades and his own diffidence. Nice guy, very bad political detritus.
Then you have Zimbabwe. It’s neither this nor that. It’s a double whammy. The place has experienced 40 full years of poor leadership, 40 full years of bad policies and 40 full years of nonstop looting.
Right now, it does not at all seem as if it’s about to emerge from its nightmare. While many of us in the
I hate to say I told you so, but when strongman Robert Mugabe was toppled in 2017 I warned: “It is so tempting to jump up with joy and ululate with the oppressed people of Zimbabwe … it would be foolish to do so. Zimbabwe has been a country of false dawns and dashed hopes since Mugabe took power in 1980.”
It still is. Zimbabwe’s economy has completely collapsed. Its leaders are looting the country and setting themselves up offshore. The country is a dictatorship where opposition activists and leaders have been arrested, detained, tortured and menaced over the past 20 years, and particularly now that the coronavirus has brought suffering on the country’s people.
The last election was a sham. The one before that was a sham. Those who have been able to do so, have fled and are all over Southern Africa.
Last week the military shut down the stock exchange and suspended mobile money transactions. Al Jazeera reports that unemployment has reached an estimated 90%. There is no fuel or food. Bloomberg reports that inflation is at 800%.
“Civil servants earn a 10th of what they took home two years ago,” Bloomberg writes. “Most Zimbabweans haven’t experienced such pain since Mugabe led his liberation army to independence from white minority rule in 1980.”
Meanwhile, opposition activists and civil society figures are now routinely arrested, tortured and charged with crimes as ridiculous as “undermining the president’s authority”.
A few weeks ago security forces seized the opposition’s headquarters. Who does that except a dictatorship?
Zimbabwe is a textbook example of how not to do things and how to turn a country of great potential into a basket case. It is everything we should avoid: thinking that leaders are gods, not standing up for ourselves and our citizenry, deifying leaders.
Most important, it is the death of voice. Zimbabwe got to the horrible state it is in because our spineless leaders — from Mbeki to Ramaphosa — used their voices not to help forge democracy in that country but to empower a murderous regime. They played politics and enabled a tyrant. The result is there for all to see.
Oh, I know. There will be a lot of bleating from a certain tired brigade of people who love to ennoble dictators such as Mugabe. The answer to their inane arguments is to point them north and ask them: would you live in Zimbabwe yourself? Not one of them would say yes.
Zimbabwe is a textbook example of how to turn a country of great potential into a basket case