DoD plans to sack 1000-2000 personnel

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The Department of Defence (DoD) plans to sack between 1000 and 2000 personnel for involvement in what has been labelled a mutinous riot that endangered national security at the Union Buildings last Wednesday.

Depending on reports between 1000 and 3000 members of the South African National Defence Union went on the rampage when a protest seeking to highlight pay and other grievances degenerated into chaos.

The DoD last week put the number between 1000 and 1500 but now considers it between 1500 and 2000.

The City of Tshwane originally cleared the protest but on Wednesday morning obtained an interdict against the demonstration on the basis of information provided by the military that the protest might turn violent.

This indeed happened when some protesters attempted to enter the Union Building precinct from an adjacent public park and police responded with water cannon, stun grenades, teargas and shotgun fire.   

The crowd responded with stones and at least one petrol bomb (Molotov cocktail) that set alight a Military Police vehicle. Dozens of other police and military vehicles were damaged and about 18 military and police personnel, including rioters, were injured.      

The Beeld newspaper reported this morning that by yesterday 790 personnel had received letters of “provisional dismissal” including some on duty at a military exhibition at the Pretoria Show.

SANDU national secretary, Advocate Pikkie Greeff, told the paper letters had also been served on personnel serving as peacekeepers abroad as well as some on holiday leave that day or at scheduled medical appointments at military hospitals.    

Interdict

The DoD has meanwhile obtained an interdict from the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that stops all illegal protest marches by military personnel.

The DoD, in a media statement, adds the interdict, granted by Judge Bill Prinsloo, also orders military unions “to stop making inflammatory remarks and irresponsible statements encouraging soldiers to disobey laws by embarking on illegal strikes that compromise national security”.

Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs Lindiwe Sisulu`s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya says the ministry “approached the High Court to stop unions from mobilising soldiers not to follow orders, or participate in illegal strikes and to stop them from making inflammatory statements that are against the spirit of the Constitution.”

The interdict lists as respondents SANDU, the SA Security Forces Union and the latter`s president, Navy Lieutenant Commander Bhekinkosi Mvovo and a Frederick Musima.

The interdict reads in part that the “Third and Fourth Respondents` members or any member of the SA National Defence Force are interdicted from any illegal march or any illegal action…”

The interdict also prohibits the “making of inflammatory statements inciting mutiny, revolt and illegal behaviour.”              

In welcoming the interdict, Mabaya quoted Sisulu as saying the unions must start behaving within the laws of the country. “It is irresponsible for unions to mobilise their members to break the law and to continue to make irresponsible statements that compromise the image and the security of the state, we hope they will respect this court interdict as the Defence has no place for Unions who have no respect for law,” Sisulu said.

She added that the state will in the next few days approach the court to recover the costs of the damage on the day of the strike. “SANDU must pay for the damage to our state property and the cost of the operations, there is no way a union can arrange an illegal protest march and not be held responsible for its outcome”.

SACC mediation

In another development, the SA Council of Churches (SACC) has made itself available as a mediator between the ministry and the unions. The SACC said it was concerned that the spat was affecting the dignity of the minister`s office as well as the image of the military and the country.   

The SA Press Association (SAPA) reports the SACC was to have met Sisulu this morning at 10am following a meeting with SANDU yesterday. SASFU was invited but was unable to attend.

SAPA further reported that the government-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has also offered to facilitate a resolution.

The Young Communist League (YCL) and the Pan Africanist Movement (PAM) issued statements condemning the violence, but also supporting the soldiers for the issues they tried to raise.

“We believe that the concerns of the soldiers, especially related to wages and transformation of the military, are genuine and should be addressed,” said the YCL.

The PAM said the events at the Union Buildings represented a build-up of frustration.

The Business Day reports COSATU and the YCL also called on Sisulu to reconsider the dismissals. COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said the soldiers had legitimate grievances and “mass dismissals will solve nothing.” He added it was also time to allow military unions to join trade union federations such as COSTU.

The YCL said the minister was “using dismissal as a political tool to avoid dealing with the gist of the matter.”

The uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association by contrast at the weekend blasted the protest and called for a “review of unionisation in the security sector”. It is not clear if this includes the police and prisons departments, both of which are unionised by COSATU formations.



Pic: SANDF members at a deployment parade