South Africa

Why Does South Africa Need Armed Forces?

Laugh, the beloved country

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Laugh, the Beloved Country

In a recent video, a South African Navy Commander revealed that the country needs its three diesel-electric German-built submarines to keep the rainbow nation safe from… sharks. Predictably, hilarity ensued. The mind-numbing stupidity of the Commander aside, the renewed focus on South Africa's submarines raises an important question.

Why does South Africa need armed forces to begin with? The country is a regional hyper-power. There is no earthly way in which any of South Africa's neighbors—the microscopic Lesotho, impoverished Mozambique and Swaziland, starving Zimbabwe, and sparsely populated Namibia and Botswana—could ever threaten its national security.

Zimbabwe, which is the only state whose leadership is deranged enough to trouble any of its neighbors, has 29,000 soldiers. The South African police force alone has 150,000 officers and better equipment. Simply put, South Africans could beat back an invasion from a neighboring state with a pogo stick. So, why spend $5 billion on a military that no one needs? 

Three reasons come to mind. First, the nation's military is a massively inefficient jobs program that soaks up some of the country's unemployed and a patronage system that provides sinecures to the lackeys of the ANC government. Second, it offers marvelous opportunities for self-enrichment to the country's corrupt elite, which negotiates arms purchases from foreign suppliers.  Third, it is a status symbol. All serious nations have a military and so must South Africa—whether it needs one or not.

The giant waste that is the South African military is not new. It was a massive burden on the country's economy under apartheid and, shock and horror, under Nelson Mandela. In fact, a comprehensive revamping of the country's military was the first (yes, first) large spending project embarked upon by the newly-elected African National Congress government in 1994. One of the main beneficiaries of that titanic boondoggle was South Africa's current president, Jacob Zuma.

In the meantime, South Africa's economy—the measure of the country's fortunes as well as the government's commitment to the welfare of its people—grew at a slower pace than any other BRICS country, save Brazil. Between 1994 and 2015, Brazil, Russia (not shown), India, China and South Africa grew 35 percent, 83 percent, 184 percent, 443 percent and 62 percent respectively.

Explore more data like this at HumanProgress.org.

NEXT: Brickbat: Until Morale Improves

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  1. I’d wager the submarines aren’t needed, but the South African Government is more likely to deploy those troops against civil unrest than another country. Besides that, the bulk of african wars have been asymmetric, where smaller, lightly armed forces attack unpredictable, almost random targets which spreads out the defending national army. There hasn’t been an african equivalent to the battle of kursk, and analyzing military needs on the basis of nation-states going to classical war is disingenuous at best.

    But yeah, the submarines are not needed.

    1. Why can’t the South Africans just rely on the UN to keep them safe like everybody else does?

  2. Police are not soldiers. Different equipment, training, leadership, everything. Doesn’t mean they need a huge army, but they need at least a small one.

    1. Aww, that’s adorable! You might want to do a least some research on the type of crime that occurs in South Africa before thinking their police are somehow not soldiers.

    2. Police are not soldiers. Different equipment, training, leadership, everything.

      [Citation needed]

  3. Arguing that the SA military is a massively wasteful and corrupt organization that should be reformed would be sane.

    Did we lose half of the article? Did I miss something? Tupy seems to be saying that SA needs no military whatsoever, which is not sane.

    1. At least we appear to have read the same article.

    2. That’s the part where he says the 150,000-strong SA police force could serve as a military if needed, at least with enough effectiveness to fit SA’s needs.

  4. Under Apartheid, and in the era of Soviet-supported communist-ish anti-colonialism, South Africa somewhat reasonably expected they might have to fend off a coalition of Soviet-armed revolutionary regimes. It was also and ironically the outpost of the free world in sub-Saharan Africa and would have been a first responder to an actual Soviet invasion of that region. And yes, the Apartheid regime probably took a lot of comfort in having that military standing between it and the massive black underclass.

    The reason they still “need” a powerful military today is the inertia of bureaucracy and their incumbent military-industrial complex that has the political ability to dig in its heels and resist a rapid drawdown. In the end, the drawdown will happen anyway if the people can plainly see there’s no threat on the horizon. Or, South Africa will get its own version of Putin to provoke a “threat” and justify a new build-up.

  5. “. There is no earthly way in which any of South Africa’s America’s neighbors -impoverished Mexico and sparsely populated Canada ?could ever threaten its national security.”

    1. Hey, cutting and pasting takes a lot of time (see below).

      1. At least a good four minutes…

      2. Great Sick minds think alike.

  6. Remind me again why I should care whether or not South Africa has armed forces?

    1. Because the author is going to try to apply the exact same ‘logic’ to other countries you might care about.

      1. Oh. Okay. I guess I still don’t care. I’m just waiting for the articles about Brussels.

        1. It’s a plant in the cabbage family most people cook wrong.

          1. It’s a vegetable that is only slightly preferable to hemlock.

  7. These two paragraphs fit the U.S. so accurately that it almost goes without saying. Just replace “SA” with USA” and SA’s neighbors with Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.

    “The country is a regional hyper-power. There is no earthly way in which any of South Africa’s neighbors?the microscopic Lesotho, impoverished Mozambique and Swaziland, starving Zimbabwe, and sparsely populated Namibia and Botswana?could ever threaten its national security.”

    “Three reasons come to mind. First, the nation’s military is a massively inefficient jobs program that soaks up some of the country’s unemployed and a patronage system that provides sinecures to the lackeys of the ANC government. Second, it offers marvelous opportunities for self-enrichment to the country’s corrupt elite, which negotiates arms purchases from foreign suppliers. Third, it is a status symbol. All serious nations have a military and so must South Africa?whether it needs one or not.”

    1. Except that the US isn’t a “regional hyper-power”, it’s the world’s only hyper-power. And do you really think the US military is a jobs program that soaks up the country’s unemployed? US military staffing is currently the lowest it’s been in 60 years.

      1. So it’s slightly less of a jobs program than it has been? The military still directly employs 1.4 million people, and the biggest part of the “jobs program” is the contractors who exist solely to supply shit like the F-35, which has set a new standard in government waste.

  8. This sounds like the same shit where people say slaughtering X amount of people won’t topple the government. People don’t give a shit about the government being toppled as much as they give a shit about being in the X amount of people that could be killed even by an inferior force.

    1. What are you talking about? Who has said that, and how is it relevant?

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  10. There is no earthly way in which any of South Africa’s neighbors?the microscopic Lesotho, impoverished Mozambique and Swaziland, starving Zimbabwe, and sparsely populated Namibia and Botswana?could ever threaten its national security.

    That’s right! You need belligerent neighbors like Canada and Mexico to really need a robust and capable fighting force! Imagine if we didn’t have such a huge national defense infrastructure? Mapple syrup at every breakfast table for use on breakfast burritos is what would happen!

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  12. In our modern world,threats can come from places far away from your neighbors. S.Africa has a vast supply of valuable resources,great mineral wealth. Some country might decide to seize the diamond mines,or the other mineral wealth,and invade by sea,or they might do a blockade. In either case,submarines would be very useful in stopping the attack/invasion. Look at the utility of Britain’s subs during the Falklands conflict.

  13. The South African police force alone has 150,000 officers and better equipment. Simply put, South Africans could beat back an invasion from a neighboring state with a pogo stick.

    That’s a terrible argument!

    First of all, a police force is NOT an army! It is trained to battle crime and apprehend criminals, not fight wars. Most police officers would have no knowledge of military tactics or strategy. Faced with an army on the march many if not most be would be more likely to act the same way Iraq’s army did when faced by ISIS: drop their weapons and run.

    Secondly, most police officers are not equipped to fight an army. Pistols and batons are no match for bazookas, mortars, and machine guns. And those are merely the infantry weapons. Armies also have tanks, artillery, and helicopter gunships.

    Then you have the enemy’s air force, which would not only come equipped with guns but also bombs, napalm, etc etc.

    The notion of using a nation’s police force to defend it against an invading army is, frankly, a bad joke.

  14. RE: Hillary Clinton on Brussels: Terrorists Won’t ‘Undermine Democratic Values’?But She Already Has

    Because unarmed forces usually get killed in battle.

    1. sorry.
      I replied to another post.
      please disregard.

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