A rapid rise in anti-immigrant violence has emerged in South Africa, with at least seven people killed and many more local immigrants’ properties and businesses destroyed. In response to this wave of xenophobic crime, the South African government announced the deployment of troops to areas that have been most affected by the violence, including parts of Durban in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the impoverished district of Alexandra in Johannesburg.
South Africa has big plans to expand its involvement in Africa. To implement these, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, has a vision and a 400-page Defence Review to guide her in developing the capabilities of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to match the national, regional and continental role envisaged by cabinet and the Presidency. Yet she will need support and additional funds: quite a lot of it too, judging by the recommendations in the review.
After being in limbo for almost 16 years, with no review of its role since 1998, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) now has a new blueprint for the future. The 2014 Defence Review was approved by cabinet and has been cleared for publication, following a lengthy process that started in mid-2011. It takes into account South Africa’s increasing role in peacekeeping in Africa and will form a basis for funding allocated to the military. However, the strategy should be implemented soon to stop the decline of the defence sector that has resulted from a lack of funds and overstretching of its capabilities.
Years of under-spending and a mismatch between missions and funding have had dramatic consequences. For example, where the 1998 Review provided for one battalion to be deployed externally for a year, the SANDF has had at least two battalions deployed for peacekeeping since 2001 – three for a decade and briefly four – along with smaller elements. Today it has a battalion group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), plus a battalion in Darfur and a frigate in the Mozambique Channel. In the interim, the government also changed its mind and instructed the SANDF to again take over responsibility for border safeguarding.
South Africa is conducting a fairly delicate struggle with Rwanda, trying to choreograph and coordinate complex moves to manage the difficult and dangerous President Paul Kagame – on the hard streets of Johannesburg, in the polite halls of diplomacy, in the courts of law, and, by proxy, on the field of battle.
On Tuesday this week the terrain of this struggle moved to multilateral diplomacy in Luanda, where President Jacob Zuma once again attended a summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). South Africa is not a member of this body, but Zuma has become a sort of country member, having been invited to the last few summits as a special guest.
When Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo stepped up to the podium at the African Union (AU) this week to sign up to the AU’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), it was not clear whether this was a high point or a low point for the initiative.
Was it a great triumph for the 11-year-long effort by the APRM to reform the political, economic and social governance of Africa that it had managed to entice one of the continent’s most notorious autocrats into its democratic embrace? After all, when the APRM was launched in 2003, it was strongly criticised for being a voluntary mechanism that would leave the least democratic African leaders untouched. And yet, here was one of them joining.
Or was Obiang’s signing onto APRM a Groucho Marx moment instead: as one journalist quipped, a case of ‘who would want to join any organisation that would have Obiang as a member?’