Military trade unions – is there room for them in the SANDF?


It’s an open secret neither the Defence Ministry nor the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is in favour of trade unions in the military.

What also cannot be denied is that the existence of military trade unions is in line with the South African Constitution.

This stand-off has seen any number of verbal exchanges and lawsuits between the military trade unions and the upper echelons of the SANDF as well as immediate past Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

The past few weeks has again seen an escalation of tension with an element of mudslinging added. SA National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary Pikkie Greeff is again consulting lawyers, this time with a view to charges of libel.
“Again” because the union has had to resort to the courts on many occasions in its disputes with the Defence Ministry and the SANDF. It has successfully taken the national military machine through the legal system and come out as the victor on any number of occasions.

While the approach of the SANDF is best typified by current SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke who, when he was in charge of the SA Army, said people who wanted jobs shouldn’t look to the defence force. He called service in the SANDF “a calling”.

While there are many in uniform who fully accept death is part of the deal when signing up, there are also others who denigrate the effort and patriotism shown by the majority.

The most recent example of commitment to the uniform and the discipline that goes with it are the actions of those soldiers involved in the abortive Battle for Bangui. They are Shoke’s type of people.

Two examples of the bad are the pilot who ‘borrowed’ an SA Air Force aircraft to visit friends in Botswana and the by-now infamous colonel from the same arm of service who was photographed, in uniform, wearing pink slippers while on a shopping outing. These are people who either don’t want to understand the discipline that goes with the uniform or simply couldn’t care less. In other words the ones Shoke identified as joining up for jobs.

Essentially it comes down to the military trade unions wanting the best for those who pay their union dues, be they combatants, cooks or clerks, while the SANDF wants professionalism and dedication from all musterings.

Where it will end is anybody’s guess. As matters stand there is going to be more tension and more court cases with the only winner being the one who gets the nod from the judge or magistrate.

Surely, this is not the way to build a defence force South Africa can be proud of?