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Defense expo reflects troubles for South African military

Russian sniper rifles are displayed at the the biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition at the Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria, South Africa Wednesday Sept. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Christopher Torchia)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa is one of the continent’s biggest defense spenders but its military is increasingly stretched as the country faces recession and a weakening currency.

This week’s biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition is a showcase for the country’s military, which is one of the top 20 contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions and helps with anti-piracy operations off Mozambique’s coast.

Concerns also are growing about possible corruption linked to state-owned defense conglomerate Denel, part of a wider inquiry into the alleged plundering of state resources under former President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa’s military “has got a lot on its plate,” said Guy Martin, editor of defenceWeb, an industry news site.

The country has a defense budget of more than $3 billion. However, the weakening South African currency and the economic recession are making it harder for the military to acquire new equipment and training.

President Cyril Ramaphosa opened the fair this week with a speech acknowledging the “economic reality” and pledging support for the defense industry, a key earner of foreign currency.

Despite the problems, soldiers at the five-day trade fair were enthusiastic.

Capt. T.G. Netshineulu encouraged a group of schoolchildren to consider joining the military after they finish their studies.

“I can die for this country,” he said. “And I’m willing to do so.”

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