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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
South Africa denies army in crisis
South African soldiers
South Africa's army has stopped recruiting

The South African Government has reacted angrily to reports that the country's armed forces are in a state of serious crisis.


The national defence force is on course and the national defence force is equal to its task.

Mosiuoa Lekota, Defence Minister

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota dismissed with contempt suggestions that South Africa's forces are not up to the task before them.

Newspaper reports citing a briefing given to MPs by senior soldiers have reported that more than half of South African soldiers are unfit and that morale is at rock bottom.

Minister Lekota said the South African armed forces are perfectly placed to fulfil their obligations.

He denied reports that up to 60% of South Africa's soldiers may be HIV positive.

Financial strain

The defence minister said new and comprehensive figures at his disposal showed that a maximum of 23% are infected with the virus.

South African soldier
Pretoria says reports of an army ravaged by Aids are grossly exaggerated
He did admit that the forces are under financial strain.

He said that South Africa's pressing social problems, and the need to redress inequalities between races, made it inevitable that defence spending should be coming under pressure.

"South Africans must accept we're busy managing a revolution.

"But the national defence force is on course and the national defence force is equal to its task.

"I would challenge anyone to say you are not able to do this, you are not able to do that, you are only able to do this," he said.

Post-apartheid challenges

The minister was responding to a series of dramatic newspaper articles which cite a briefing given to members of parliament by senior soldiers during a recent visit to a military base.

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

The MPs were apparently told that the army only has four working tanks and that training has ground to a standstill.

South Africa has always had one of the strongest armies on the African continent.

But since the end of apartheid, the Defence Ministry has had to contend not only with a fall in resources, but has also had to manage a delicate process of racial integration.

See also:

16 Jul 02 | Africa
05 Dec 01 | Business
04 Oct 01 | Africa
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