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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
South Africa's army 'unfit'
South African soldier
South Africa's army has stopped recruiting
Most of South Africa's army is either too unfit or too old to be operationally deployed, according to a parliamentary report.

Only 3,000 out of 76,000 soldiers could be deployed and only four tanks could be used in action, according to a briefing by the defence department.

The chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on defence, Thandi Modise, has called on the defence minister to present a plan to remedy the situation within three months, according to the Sunday Independent newspaper.

South Africa's antique army
Only 3,000 of 76,000 troops can be deployed operationally
Only four out of 168 tanks are operational
The air force usually runs out of fuel in September
Seven out of 10 deaths in the army are Aids-related
Training has been stopped
Military analyst Herman Hannekom of the Africa Institute knows the contents of the report and told BBC News Online that it should start a national debate and the defence force should go back to the drawing board.

Among the examples of the defence force's plight presented to the committee was the possibility that up to 60% of soldiers could be HIV positive.

The army has estimated the infection rate at between 17 and 23% but the briefing document quoted an unnamed medical specialist at a military hospital as saying that six out of every ten soldiers admitted to hospital tested positive for HIV.

Seven out of every ten deaths in the armed forces are Aids related, the parliamentary committee was told.

But Mr Hannekom said that the problem with estimating the HIV rate was that "honest statistics" were not available.

Too many generals

The department of defence has not said why so many troops are unfit or too old for operational service.

A department spokesman told BBC News Online that a press conference would be held on Tuesday to give its response to the report.

The briefing said that many soldiers were aged between 32 and 36.

President Thabo Mbeki
South Africa's president needs to look at his army

An opposition spokesperson on defence, Roy Jankielsohn of the Democratic Alliance, said that the usual age of an infantryman was between 18 and 22. Many soldiers were therefore too old for operational deployment.

The army stopped recruiting in 1994 when the armed wings of the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) were integrated into the defence force, according to Mr Jankielsohn.

It is not only the age and medical state of soldiers that presented a problem, the report detailed.

Only four out of 168 Olifant tanks and eight of 242 Rooikat armoured cars were operational.

The air force was reportedly short of fuel and usually ran out of fuel by September each year.

MPs were also told that the army was "top-heavy" with one general for every 293 men compared with one to 2,000 men in the United States army.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Business
04 Oct 01 | Africa
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