The South African Navy and Regional Maritime Security: The Dilemma of Political-Strategic Objectives and Financial Constraints

  • Theo Neethling


There is no doubt that the geostrategic position of South Africa places it centrally beside major trade routes to the East and the West – a point that has been emphasized over the years by South Africa’s political leadership as well as the top commanding echelons of the South African Navy (SAN). Furthermore, there is general agreement among South Africa’s political leaders and naval commanders that good ocean governance is important for regional security. However, the SAN’s share of the defence budget had been steadily shrinking from a peak of 17 per cent in 1977 to about 7 per cent in the mid-1990s. This is linked to a political landscape where acute socio-economic needs and extremely high levels of unemployment in the country are the order of the day. Still, the SAN maintained effectiveness and efficiency and an ability not normally associated with small navies. Yet, limited spending on defence in general and the SAN in particular has become a matter of great concern to the SAN, as there has been a growing political-strategic requirement for the SAN to be active in regional security governance and to participate in multinational maritime operations of a non-offensive nature in the African context. For the SAN it thus became a challenge of mandate versus means or political-strategic ambition versus financial affordability. This chapter aims to focus on the following: firstly, the way South Africa views its national interests in relation to regional maritime security; and secondly, the political-economic challenges and constraints relating to the role of the SAN with regard to regional maritime (in)security.



The author wishes to note that this article is based upon work supported financially by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and therefore the NRF does not accept any liability in regard thereto.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theo Neethling
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political Studies and GovernanceUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations