The Military Command Council (MCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) strongly avers any insinuations the force, or those commanding it, have interfered with the democratic process.
This follows publication, at the weekend, of an article implying a mutiny by soldiers was narrowly averted ahead of former president Jacob Zuma’s resignation in February. City Press has it that “military intelligence picked up on talk of a revolt among soldiers who were former members of the ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe”.
A strongly worded statement issued by the Directorate: Corporate Communication of the SANDF with the heading “The MCC condemns malicious claims by faceless sources in the media who suggest that SANDF meddles in the political affairs of South Africa” followed publication of the article, notwithstanding published comments given by Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, SANDF corporate communications director.
He is quoted as saying allegations of interference in political leadership were “baseless”.
“As per the constitutional mandate, the SANDF is not in the business of interfering in the political developments of the republic,” he said, adding the SANDF pledged allegiance to the Constitution and took direction from government, irrespective of who was in charge.
According to the MCC statement South Africans are “categorically urged to respect the institution of the military and refrain from spreading maliciously false information about the SANDF”.
“The City Press article peddled misinformation that the SANDF interfered with issues of the state during the ascension of our Commander-in-Chief and Head of State, President Cyril Ramaphosa to the highest office in the land is seen as an attempt to discredit our country’s military and its political maturity to fully grasp and understand the constitutional checks and balances not to meddle in issues of the state.
“Tasked with the noble responsibility to constitutionally serve the people of South Africa, in their diversity, the SANDF has never in its 24 years of existence undermined the institution of state as embodied by the executive, the legislature and the country’s judiciary, and has remained resolute to defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty without fail ever since the First Parliament presided over by our First Commander-in-Chief President Nelson Mandela – whose centenary we celebrate this year.
“As the country’s military, the SANDF puts South Africa first and fosters national cohesion while continuing its march to advance Madiba’s nation building teachings.
“The MCC condemns with the contempt it deserves any claim by cowardly unnamed sources that suggest our military does not understand its place in a democratic dispensation. Our military has never failed in its mandate to defend our hard earned democracy and has no business straying into the political realm as it is led and staffed by upright men and women who have no luxury to be couch critics of political developments in our beloved South Africa but continue to serve with loyalty in and outside the borders of the republic so that you and I can stay clear of harm.
“The MCC joins the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, in sternly condemning claims made by faceless individuals whose intentions we believe are not in the interest of South Africa and its people, but to spread doubts and panic about what our military is about.”
Defence analyst Darren Olivier from African Defence Review noted “this is, of course, a serious allegation if accurate. Any suggestion of SANDF disloyalty to civil leadership is unthinkable and can never be tolerated. That said, there are good reasons to believe this plan was neither coherent nor had the necessary support.
“First, while there are senior officers in the armed forces whose loyalties are more to party than country, by and large the lower and mid-level ranks are non-political. Unlike in some other continental forces, there are no strong lines of patronage running down the ranks. This means soldiers aren’t dependent on pleasing their superiors to get paid, and majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels are similarly insulated to a large extent from capricious generals and admirals, thanks to unionisation, disciplinary appeal options, and centralised human resources.
“For any coup attempt to be successful those leading it need to be assured of support all the way down the ranks, yet the SANDF does not have the kind of dominant political loyalty to any specific group that would make this possible. Political beliefs are diverse across ranks.
“On top of that, despite localised problems, the operational side of the SANDF maintains a high degree of apolitical professionalism. If anything, the soldiers I’ve interacted with tend to be overtly anti-political, with low opinions of politicians in general.
“Another question to ask, of course, is cui bono? Most personnel in the SANDF had nothing to gain from keeping Zuma in power. In fact for many the opposite is true, as a new administration at least brought some possibility of an improvement in funding and in working conditions.
“Also important is while rumours of this have swirled for months, there’s been zero awareness or discussion of it at any level below the General Staff. That’s unheard of in the aftermath of an actual coup attempt, where it’s impossible for the rank and file to know nothing. Nor were there any signs or indications of troops or units mobilising for action or being deployed at increased levels around the time of the changeover, which we were watching carefully for and which would have been a crucial sign of actual attempts to halt the changeover.
“Finally, and most important, no generals have been dismissed since then. Had there been a credible coup attempt, it would be insanity for the ANC to permit those responsible to remain in command, purely because of the unpredictability they bring.
“In short, do I believe the option of a coup was explored by those close to Zuma? Yes. Do I believe it went as far as sounding out certain senior officers? Quite possibly. Do I believe it was ever a credible outcome? No, not at all,” Olivier concluded.