Army chiefs seeks to assure SA on soldiers

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The Chief of the South African Army, Lt General Solly Shoke this morning sought to reassure South Africans that they have nothing to fear from the country’s soldiers.

He addressed the media at the SA Army College at Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria, following last week`s protest by mutinous soldiers outside the Union Buildings.

Shoke, who has a reputation as a straight-talking disciplinarian, said he would not tolerate mutinous behaviour, adding the army`s discipline was strong despite the protests last week Wednesday.

He said in other countries mutinous behaviour could lead to mutineers being placed in front of a firing squad. Nigeria recently sentenced a group of mutineers to life imprisonment but has since commuted the sentences to seven years.

  

Defence and Veterans Affairs minister Lindiwe Sisulu has since ordered the “provisional dismissal” of the protesters, stating that they had 10 days in which to make representations or the dismissals would be final.

Defence department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi says 1332 letters have been issued in the SA Army alone and 246 representations have been received by yesterday. The figures for the other services were negligible, he added.    

Meanwhile The Times reports the SA National Defence Union (SANDU) intends asking the High Court to set aside the dismissal of the soldiers.

The paper reports this morning SANDU will challenge the dismissals if it is not furnished with the legal grounds on which the dismissals are based, according to a letter sent by attorneys Griesel Breytenbach.

“In the event that we do not receive the regulations requested, disproving our position, it is our instructions to approach the High Court on an urgent basis to set aside the process set out in your letter, without any further notice,” the attorneys said.

According to the letter sent to Sisulu, expecting employees to prove their innocence is “not due process and therefore legally flawed”.

SANDU is also set to appeal an eleventh hour court application which saw a planned protest over poor pay and working conditions in Pretoria last Wednesday banned and the permission granted by the metro police cancelled.

Shortly after the court`s ruling a group of people thought to be soldiers scaled a fence at the Union Buildings and damaged several cars. Police fired rubber bullets and teargas at them.

The Times says SANDU charges, via its attorneys, that its members did not take place in an illegal protest, claiming there was no protest.

According to the letter, after the court application, it was agreed between SANDU and police that SANDF members already gathered in the city to protest should be moved to a venue determined by the metro police.

The venue was identified where SANDU leadership could address its members on the outcome and implications of the case.

“This movement of participants is not and can not be construed as a protest march. Doing so would imply that both the metro police and the SA Police Service were in fact aiding unlawful conduct (`illegal` protest march) which is, with respect, preposterous,” the lawyers say in their letter.

Griesel Breytenbach added they had been instructed not to deal with “unfortunate incidents” of violence, saying the union did not condone or encourage violence.

“In this regard SANDU is in the process of launching its own investigation and SANDU shall act against any of its members that are found to have been involved in any criminal conduct.”

Shoke this morning said due process would be followed, but there would be no negotiations with unions.

“I don`t mediate. I am a commander and I will take a command decision. No army on earth will mediate with an ill-disciplined solider. I will not mediate with ill-disciplined soldiers.”

In another development, the Pretoria News says mystery still surrounds the arrest and questioning of 40 soldiers who were rounded up at an Army base outside Johannesburg in a pre-dawn raid by military police.

Although the defence force was quick to point out that the arrests at Doornkop military base Wednesday night and yesterday had nothing to do with the crackdown on soldiers who took part in last week’s violent protests outside the Union Buildings, the department remained silent on what offences the soldiers are alleged to have committed.
“The Pretoria News has, however, learnt that seven of the 40 soldiers, who were charged and appeared in a military court in Thaba Tshwane on Thursday, are among the thousands of troops who received provisional dismissal letters for protesting last week.”

Doornkop military base is home to 21 South African Infantry Battalion.

By last night 33 of the 40 suspects had been released “unconditionally”.

Mkhwanazi was unable to say what the seven had been charged with or when they would appear in a military court.

However, SANDU national secretary Pikkie Greeff said the seven had been charged with conduct to the prejudice of military discipline.


“This is an extremely wide-ranging charge which is used to charge someone for anything which could range from scratching their nose to not polishing their boots,” he said.

Eyewitness accounts were that the soldiers were arrested at random as they arrived at the base. “There was no suspect list. The military police simply arrested the first lot of troops to arrive.
“This is very suspicious, especially as no reasons were given to those who were released as to why they had been questioned or detained.
“The only thing they were told was that they were suspected of having taken part in illegal marches, but when asked what marches the military police would not say.”

Those who appeared in court were released on bail.
“The seven who were charged are recipients of the provisional dismissal letters, which leaves one wondering whether this is not an intimidation tactic.”

SA Security Forces Union national executive member Mfazwe Plaatjie said the union was “completely in the dark” about the operation.
“We have absolutely no idea what is happening and what the soldiers have been charged with. We have not been able to see our members. We don’t know their ranks, names or positions in the defence force.
“While we know some of our members have been released after an intensive questioning process, we do not know when the others will be released.
“At this stage the Defence Department is keeping us completely in the dark as they are refusing to divulge information on what these soldiers are alleged to have done,” he said.

Plaatjie said the timing of the arrest was suspicious.
“It is very peculiar that days after the unions and the defence minister are involved in a major crisis our members are suddenly being arrested.”

In a further development, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans` Association has told the Young Communist League (YCL) it must respect the Minister of Defence, the SA Pres Association reports.

“MKMVA condemns the unwarranted attacks on the Minister of Defence … it is important that we desist from creating a situation where the command structure … is disturbed by disrespect,” MKMVA secretary-general Ayanda Dlodlo said.

She said Sisulu had shown genuine appreciation of her duties, and her actions demonstrated her willingness to play her role in transforming the working conditions of Defence Force members and the lot of military veterans. “We should appreciate the fact that this is one minister who, because she too has a military background, understands the military and has full cognisance of the protocols of the command and control chain of the military as an institution.

“MKMVA will defend the minister, as she is a member of our association, and we will be the first to criticise where we feel she is faltering in her duties … we will not be silent.”

On Tuesday the YCL condemned the minister for dismissing soldiers involved in strike action late last month. It said the move by the minister did not help resolve tensions over the strike.

“Dismissing soldiers who are breadwinners and heads of family households implies that the minister is using dismissal as a political tool to avoid dealing with the gist of the matter.

“We call on the Minister of Defence … not to solve the problem by avoiding it, but by urgently giving the soldiers a hearing,” the YCL said in statement.



Pic: Cheif of the South African Army- Lt General Solly Shoke