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S.African military overstretched, underfunded: ministry

South Africa’s military is overstretched and underfunded as it adapts to new demands from peacekeeping to fighting piracy, the defence ministry said Thursday in launching a review of military policy.

“The defence policy we have is completely obsolete,” Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said as she released the more than 400-page review.

“The current operating budget has proven insufficient to cover higher than planned fuel costs, in-service training, maintenance, repair and support to modern defence systems,” the document said.

“The South African military is consequently too poorly equipped and funded to execute the widening spectrum of tasks to the desired level.”

The review is the first since 1998, when military policy was overhauled for the post-apartheid era with a focus on integrating white South Africa’s formal military with guerrillas from the liberation movement.

“At the time South Africa wasn’t as much part of the continent as far as the African Union was concerned. Now it’s a different picture, now we have an important role to fulfill as member of the AU,” said the Defence Review Committee chairman Roelf Meyer.

Since then South Africa has deployed peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Sudan.

The navy has begun patrolling Mozambican waters for pirates, and soldiers have deployed along South Africa borders to beef up security, including in the fight against rhino poachers.

“We should not overestimate our leadership role but we should also not underestimate our role,” said Meyer, an apartheid-era cabinet minister who helped script the country’s democratic constitution.

The review will now go for public and parliamentary debate.

Its recommendations include improvements to modernise the country’s military, one of Africa’s largest with 75,000 uniformed soldiers, but often beset with faulty equipment because of budget constraints.

South Africa’s annual defence budget currently stands at 38.4 billion rand ($5.4 billion, 3.8 billion euros), and Sisulu has been vocal in calling for an increase. Spending on defence accounts for less than 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product.