South African Military Under Financial Strain as Troops Deployed

South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the deployment of troops to help end conflicts and promote peace on the continent in the past 16 years has put the department under financial strain.

“I don’t think government has a choice at this point in time” on whether it will allocate more money to defense, Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters today in the capital, Pretoria. “I hope everybody will have an appreciation for the urgency of equipping the defense force.”

The military is 24 percent underfunded for its size, spends a disproportionate amount of its budget on salaries and faces a lack of key equipment, according to the South African Defense Review, a government-commissioned report published last month.

In addition to defending a 4,862-kilometer (3,021-mile) land border with six countries and a 2,798-kilometer coastline, the military also participates in peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

The National Treasury allocated about 48 billion rand ($4.5 billion), or 1.3 percent of projected gross domestic product, toward defense and state security in the year through March 2015, with spending forecast to grow 6 percent annually over the next three years. That’s less than a third what the government estimates it will spend on paying interest on debt.

“Current funding levels are inadequate and below the international norm of approximately 2 percent for a developing country at peace,” Mapisa-Nqakula said. “It can be argued that, although South Africa is a developing country at peace, its responsibilities on the continent justifies that defense expenditure be set at slightly above 2 percent of GDP.”

South Africa recently agreed to participate in an African Union program to contribute human, financial and material resources during crises, Mapisa-Nqakula said.

“What this means is that South Africa is almost certain to increase its commitments on the continent,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

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