Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu says she will do what it takes to de-unionise the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), including asking Parliament to change the Constitution if needs be.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian newspaper published Friday she said “international best practice” around the world was to ban unions from the military. There were only two countries that allowed them — Germany and Denmark, she added. “In fact, Africa is shocked by the very idea that there should be unions in the defence force.” defenceWeb has previously reported at least Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and The Netherlands had military trade unions.
The Constitutional Court in May 1999 ruled that clause 23(2) of the South African Constitution of 1996 that stated “every worker has the right to form and join a trade union” also applied to military personnel. Sisulu continued “There’s a crazy notion that the constitution is not in good hands, that it needs to be rescued. We’ve no intention of changing it. But it is a living organism of our democracy. If it has elements that we might not have taken into consideration when we put it together, we have a responsibility to amend it. “But we will not amend it willy-nilly. I will try all the avenues to see if there is a way that we can deal with the unions without amending the constitution. “But should the need arise and should it be the will of Parliament, that is the route we might have to follow.”
The Department of Defence (DoD) last week said it would appeal a judgment handed down by the North Gauteng High Court that struck down its novel approach to provisionally dismiss 1420 personnel following a violent protest cum mutiny outside the Union Buildings in August last year.
The 1333 SA Army soldiers, 80 SA Military Health Service medics and seven SA Air Force airmen the DoD is seeking to sack took part in a service condition protest on August 26, SANDU’s 15th birthday. The union and its rival SASFU have long enjoyed fraught relations with the military.
Sisulu last year September said President Jacob Zuma approved her move to sack the personnel an de-unionise the military in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF. “He did not hesitate to indicate his views – immediate dismissal,” Sisulu told the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. “What we are dealing with here are acts of criminality… I had no option but to take the decision I took,” she said.
Following the M&G interview and DoD response to the judgment SANDU on Friday called for Sisulu to be removed from her post “in the interests of South Africa and national security.”
“The total disastrously foolish way in which unions within the SANDF have been handled since her taking up the Ministry simply speaks volumes for the lack of leadership and mature democratic vision that plagues the DoD,” union general secretary Pikkie Greeff said in a statement. “Sandu will not be threatened and we will not be silenced,” he said.
“What is disturbing is that in making these threats, she has been creating the impression that she is the self-appointed spokesperson of not only the cabinet, but also the President and the ANC, without any of those institutions ever pronouncing on the issue,” Greeff said. He said no decision was taken at the Polokwane congress to ban any unions nor amend any part of the constitution. President Jacob Zuma and cabinet had also not made any decision of that sort.
The SA Security Forces Union (SASFU) said that even if Sisulu wanted to change the constitution, it would be difficult to do so. “Our position is that it’s very difficult to do that and very silly anyway to want to change it,” SASFU president Bhekinkosi Mvovo told the South African Press Association. “The truth is that changing it would end up affecting a lot of people, not just soldiers,” he said.
“We have to question the rationale in Zuma keeping the minister in her position when the [cabinet] reshuffle happened…there is nothing that has been produced by her ministry,” Mvovo said.