Ministry of Defence lawyers were this morning filing papers in the North Gauteng High Court in answer to an application lodged on Wednesday by the South African National Defence Union to stay the dismissal of 1420 soldiers, medics and airmen on grounds that the move is unlawful and unconstitutional.
Department of Defence (DoD) head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini says defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the department “thought it wise to finalise the matter without any delay”.
The court Wednesday gave Sisulu and the DoD up to two months to reply to the SANDU application.
The parties had earlier agreed to set aside letters of provisional dismissal served on the 1420 for having allegedly taken part in a protest-turned mutinous riot at the Union buildings in
Sisulu and the DoD have also “decided through counsel to approach the Gauteng Judge President to constitute a full bench as matter urgency to deal with and finalise the challenge by the unions of the dismissal of the soldiers…
“This will ensure that the matter is given the attention it deserves consistent with issues of national security,” Dlamini said in a statement issued this morning.
The media release added that Cabinet “has expressed its full support for the manner in which the ministry and department is handling the matter.
“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,” the statement added, ending that the “long drawn out process of litigation by the unions are an avoidance of necessary repercussions of ill-disciplined protestors.”
Cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko at yesterday`s post-Cabinet media briefing added that government acknowledged “that the soldiers have genuine grievances” but added that “breaking the law in the manner in which they did was totally unacceptable.”
He added that a soon-to-be-established National Defence Force Service Commission would advise Sisulu on service conditions and conduct research – including international benchmarking – to ensure that these were broadly in line with international best practice.
“This decision is a clear demonstration that the Government is committed to addressing the genuine grievances of members of the military services,” Maseko said.
“We are acknowledging that their conditions especially their pay is extremely low, that there are also issues about the equipment they are using that is outdated.
“So there was an acknowledgement on the part of the Minister, a lot of things needed to be done … [including] going back and looking at the issues that have been raised by the unions.”
Maseko says Sisulu also noted that the idea of a service commission had been mooted as long as ten years ago, but “was not acted upon” by then-minister Mosiuoa Lekota.
“So the minister has actually gone back to say that this is one of the recommendations, that to set up a special commission that can actually look at the condition of service in the military and the minister is now putting this on the table and saying, maybe this is the right time to actually address those concerns.”
SANDU could not be reached by the time of publication for a response.
Pic: Police fire on rioting soldiers, August 26.