Verbal skirmishing continues as soldiers allegedly go hungry

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Placatory words from the senior spin doctor in the SA National Defence Force regarding an apparent lack of proper rations for soldiers on active duty is not cutting the mustard as far as South Africa’s largest military trade union is concerned, with new minister Thandi Modise drawn into a mini war on words.

Allegations of short and non-supply of rations, including those with low nutritional value at times, were first raised by Sandu (SA National Defence Union) earlier this month and reported by defenceWeb. The Pretoria-headquartered labour organisation pointed out, in addition to soldiers being short supplied nutritionally, they were also left without basic hygiene products in KwaZulu-Natal after being deployed in the wake of July’s civil unrest which left over 300 dead and caused damage valued at billions to infrastructure and property.

“Soldiers should not go hungry while keeping the country safe and risking their own lives,” was part of Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff’s initial public response to what the union perceives as “neglect” of military personnel.

A letter was despatched to the new defence and military veterans minister which, at the time of publishing, had not earned any public response. Earlier this week, ahead of a second Sandu letter to Modise, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in the form of its corporate communication director Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi stated the SANDF acknowledged “challenges regarding ration packs and payment of meal allowances.”

Mgobozi went on to state “these challenges received the necessary attention” and slammed allegations soldiers were starving and  considering withdrawing from the Operation Prosper deployment.

Sandu is of the opinion the SANDF is not doing enough to meet and beat its self-identified challenges and yesterday (Tuesday, 24 July) sent another letter to Modise seeking ministerial intervention. In the second Sandu letter, Greeff writes the situation is “unacceptable” and casts doubt on the national defence force’s ability to “function professionally”.

He adds: “The longer this issue remains unresolved the more demoralised troops become which in itself poses a risk as high morale is a prerequisite for efficient military operations”.

As it often has previously, Sandu points out to Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s successor the military trade union will not hesitate to go the legal route in seeking redress for its members and other soldiers in similar situations.

Addressing media on Tuesday, Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla said the ration issue was being addressed. “The logistics of our deployment in KwaZulu-Natal, as with other deployments, are being looked into. It has been indicated there is an arrangement that is not ideal as far as the provisioning of food supplies to troops but it is an arrangement that was meant to be temporary.”



Makwetla said a solution was  found adding “we hope in a matter of days the situation will be resolved to the comfort of troops on the ground. Going forward we must obviate those kind of challenges.”