SANDF neglected: DoD

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The Department of Defence (DoD) says the South African National Defence Fore has suffered a decade of neglect.

It was this morning reacting to an interim report on the state of the military by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans this week.

The report painted a damning picture of conditions in the military, with underpaid soldiers living in shacks or in filthy barracks. Morale was ow and discipline had in some places collapsed.

“The truth is that the current situation in the SANDF has been for a long time coming,” the DoD said in a media release.

“Despite our success as an African peacekeeping contributing force, the SANDF has in reality experienced a decade of neglect.”

It added that officials were already making work of the issues raise.

“…the Department of Defence has continued to engage different stakeholders with regard to the issues that the Commission was established to look at and make recommendations to the Minister and the Department.

“Since it was announced, the commission has met a number of members and command bodies of the SANDF and the Defence Secretariat and visited various bases throughout the country.
“Before the announcement of the Commission, the DoD had been working closely with the Department of Public Works with regard to the upgrade of military barracks.

“The Department of Defence is working tirelessly to fast-track the upgrading of facilities. As we speak there are discussions between the two departments at Directors-General level to give authority to the Department of Defence to upgrade its own facilities,” the statement added.
“To complement the work of the Commission, the Department has also met with representatives from the Department of Public Service and Administration to work towards the establishment of a separate dispensation for the military.”

Th DoD adds President Jacob Zuma “was quite clear when he said: ‘The SANDF may serve the public, but they are not public servants. They may receive a salary at the end of every month, but they are not ordinary workers. The high standard of behaviour we expect from them, necessitates that special attention be paid to their working conditions, their remuneration, their pensions and generally, their place in society.'”

The statement chided the commission headed by Northern Gauteng High Court judge Lebotsang Ronnie Bosielo for raising the issue of military trade unions.
“The commission’s terms of reference were clear from the outset: its priority is to investigate and make recommendations regarding remuneration and the conditions of service of members of the SANDF – not about the existence or non-existence of unions within the military,” the DoD said.

“By focusing on the existence of unions within the Defence Force, the Commission has exceeded its mandate. President Zuma’s position is that the military is to be de-unionised.”

But Institute for Security Studies defence analyst Henri Boshoff says this is unconstitutional. “On May 26, 1999 the Constitutional Court confirmed that Section 126B of the Defence Act 44 of 1957, prohibiting military personnel from joining trade unions, participating in strikes and acts of public protest was indeed unconstitutional,” he says.

“Important to remember is that unions do not create grievances.

“It is the inability of management (or in this case military leadership) to resolve grievances or address the aspirations of members that led to the formation of unions in the first place.

“Where the grievance procedures are not functioning properly (over 4000 grievances remain unresolved), where the chain of command is dysfunctional and political leadership remains insensitive to the needs of soldiers, what alternatives remain for soldiers where military leadership refuses to engage with the unions – but to protest?

Boshoff says the interim report makes it clear that soldiers on the bottom rung of the military hierarchy “have real concerns and their grievances are not reaching the command structure.

“This indicates that the command and control system as well as the existing grievances system is not working, maybe a reason why a mass of soldiers are channelling their grievances through the trade unions.

“Unfortunately our history shows that ‘militant action works’ and it here where things have gone horribly wrong.

“Unlike other employees, we have disgruntled armed soldiers voicing their anger publicly at the state. For the sake of the country it is important to break the impasse between the management of the SANDF and the soldiers as so bring stability to the SANDF. For this, there needs to be a spirit of cooperation, not suppression. Surely the ‘defenders of our democracy’ have the right to be heard!”



Pic: A Doornkop barracks room, September