A process that started more than four years ago when dissatisfied soldiers went on the rampage outside the Union Buildings has come full circle with the announcement of members of the first permanent Defence Force Service Commission this week.
The protest at the administrative seat of national government was intended to draw attention to soldiers’ poor service conditions as well as, among others, the run-down conditions of living quarters at certain SA National Defence Force (SANDF) bases.
In the aftermath of the march, then Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu appointed an interim Defence Force Service Commission to, among others, advise on remuneration of SANDF members as well as make recommendations on a service specific dispensation outside the Public Service (government departments). It was chaired by Judge Ronnie Bosielo with Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana taking over as acting chairman when Bosielo returned to the bench of the Supreme Court last year.
One of the recommendations of the interim Commission was a pay increase across most salary grades in the SANDF. This was implemented soon after being made, while another recommendation regarding improvement of base facilities saw construction work undertaken at 21 SA Infantry Battalion and the Wonderboom SA Army Signal Corps base.
Speaking at the inauguration of members of the permanent Commission at Defence headquarters in Pretoria this week, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said it heralded a new era and progressive step in the quest to ensure the wellbeing of men and women in uniform.
The nine member commission, under the chairmanship of Professor Edna van Harte, currently Dean of the Faculty of Military Science at Stellenbosch University and the first woman to hold this position, has as its first priority the finalisation of regulations governing its functioning.
Mapisa-Nqakula also wants the Commission to prioritise the process of recommendations to her, with salary increases at the top of the list. She told the Commission its recommendations in this regard “must be made within the timeframes applicable to other government bargaining processes so as to not result in a situation where soldiers receive increases later than the rest of the public service”.
She also warned the commission to be aware of budgetary constraints when working on its salary increase recommendations.
“Consultation with the Secretary for Defence, the chief financial officer and National Treasury, among others, will ensure that whatever recommendation is placed before me is affordable and will not raise unreasonable expectations among soldiers, which in turn could lead to labour unrest if recommendations are not accepted.”
The commission has been allocated a budget of R8.7 million for the current financial year and it is expected that a head of its secretariat will be appointed by the beginning of next month.
The Commission members are: Lieutenant General (ret) Lambert Moloi; Major General (ret) James April; major General (ret) Bantu Holomisa; Professor Renfrew Christie; Ian Robertson; Magirly Mokoape, Lindiwe Zulu and Dipuo Mvelase.