Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu says last week’s Cabinet approval for a proposed independent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC) was the “culmination of three months of hard work” with various stakeholders in and outside of the defence force to address the concerns of military personnel.
She says the commission is central “to our mission that we started in June 2009 to provide a long term solution to the challenges facing our soldiers and their total condition of service.
Her remarks come after a salary protest-turned-riot last month and court action by the South African National Defence Union to prevent the dismissal of 1420 soldiers, medics and airmen the military accuse of having taken part in the demonstration that included an incursion onto the rounds of the Union Buildings that house the office of President Jacob Zuma, the Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force.
“It will enhance our thinking and understanding on how we can best recognise the efforts of our soldiers,” Sisulu added in a statement released by her office over the weekend.
Sisulu says the NDFSC, which she will appoint, will consist of experts, academics, civil society, veterans and others.
Its mandate will include “reviewing the current condition of service of our soldiers.
They will benchmark with other countries and ensure that our conditions of service are in line with the best in the world. The NDFSC will also consider the nature and form of a separate dispensation that recognises the efforts and contribution our soldiers make to national security.
“Most important they will look at how other defence forces across the world operate without unions. They will present various options available that will ensure that soldiers remain represented with a voice.The commission will also look at world trends on minimum standards for the living environment for the SANDF.
“The NDFSC will enhance our work and help us to find a comprehensive well benchmarked solution and make true of our commitment during the budget vote statement.
“The comprehensive solution will recognise that soldiers are not ordinary public servants, they carry in their shoulders the responsibility to protect our nation and their salary and condition of service should reflect that.
Bargaining chamber shenanigans
“We introduced this comprehensive approach to the bargaining chamber in July, it is for this reasons that we remain shocked why SANDU had to abandon a progressive bargaining chamber that is deliberating on acomprehensive long term solution to our problem to lead an illegal irresponsible march to the office of our President and Commander-in-Chief [sic].
“We are more than convinced that SANDU abandoned the bargaining chamber to claim victory for the collective work of the bargaining chamber. It is a sad day when unions can compromise national security to upstage each other. It is highly irresponsible of their leadership [sic],” Sisulu adds in apparent reference to turf wars between SANDU and several other military trade unions.
“On the issue of the legal process we are following to discipline soldiers who embarked on the illegal protest march, a perception has been created that a two month postponement has been agreed to, to facilitate a settlement between the unions and the Ministry and Department of Defence.The matter has purely been postponed to allow the parties to supplement their papers in the application.
“At the time of going to court, Cabinet was seized with the matter. This followed my briefing to the Portfolio Committee of Defence & Military Veterans. A postponement has enabled us to benefit from the deliberations and wisdom of government and the legislature.
“Counsel has advised that the importance of the case justifies an approach to the Judge President to appoint a full bench to entertain the matter. This will ensure that the matter is given the special attention and treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“The Ministry and the Department have no intention to abandon its pursuit of restoring discipline to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Minister, as the First Respondent, recognises that restoring discipline and the maintenance national security are Constitutional imperatives.
“Every South African has a reasonable expectation to live in a country where the defence force not only protects the territorial integrity of the Republic, but also evokes confidence by being exemplary and disciplined in its conduct, Sisulu said.
SANDU did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Pic: Minister of Defence and Military Veterans- Lindiwe Sisulu