Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has received the final report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission. Addressing the National Assembly, the minister said she had received the report yesterday morning.
“On August 24 you summonsed me to your office to discuss the report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission and you insisted to both myself and the Leader of Government Business that the finalisation of the report should happen speedily,” Sisulu said. “I gave my word that we would comply and I am now able to confirm to you that after an initial extension requested by the interim Commission, this morning I had the honour and privilege of receiving the Report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission.”
She added the intention to establish the commission was expressed before the “shameful conduct by a small ill-disciplined faction of the Defence Force” at the Union Buildings last August. At the time, soldiers belonging to the South African National Defence Union embarked on a violent protest at the Union Buildings over a wage dispute and conditions of their service, the state BuaNews agency reports. Subsequently, the commission was set up on September 9 last year following Cabinet approval of the creation of a new dispensation for the force.
The investigation and the provision of advice on remuneration and conditions of service of members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), as well as advice on the regulatory framework for the unique service dispensation, were some of the terms of reference of the brief of the commission.
Sisulu thanked the 10-member commission, which is chaired by presiding judge of the Boeremag trial, Judge Lebotsang Ronnie Bosielo of the North Gauteng High Court, the South African Press Association added. It also includes opposition party members, such as United Democratic Movement leader and retired Major General Bantu Holomisa and Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald. “Appointing members from such diverse backgrounds allowed us, for the first time in this dispensation, to have a birds-eye view of the SANDF since 1994. The observations therefore span a period of 15 years,” she said.
The report will undergo the normal process of being submitted to Cabinet and then to the Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu, she added.
The minister also had another go at her Democratic Alliance shadow, David Maynier. “I would like to say to the Leader of the Official Opposition that when your member [DA MP, David Maynier] stands here to selectively quote on on-going work to create an impression of ‘time bombs’ that exist somewhere in his imagination, then it begs the question where he was when all the changes were made to the Defence Force in the past 14 months.
“Together with the interim Commission we worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of the soldiers. The most important fact that he established in this House is that he was not part of the changes that took place. There are always two choices in life: You are either part of change or work against it. Your member has chosen the part of working against changes in the most shameful way,” Sisulu avered. “This is an opportunity for South Africans to see that patriotism transcends petty party politics and commissioners have given us a rare glimpse of how this is possible.”
Maynier and Sisulu have frequently spared over two interim reports by the commission, resulting in the DA MP being asked to leave the National Assembly last week when he accused her of “fibbing” and then refused to withdraw the comment. Maynier has recently taken to reading extracts from a leaked copy of one interim report as part of an apparent campaign to have the document and another by the commission released into the public domain.
The documents were compiled last year and sketched a dire situation in the South African National Defence Force with its state of combat readiness is “not quite as good as it should be” and morale so low it “could even threaten state security”. The reports were at the centre of a tug-of-war between the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans generally and Maynier particularly on the one hand, and Sisulu on the other, during deliberations preceding the recent adoption of the Defence Amendment Bill.
Maynier argued then and now that the committee needed the commission’s reports to properly debate the Bill. Sisulu disagreed. Maynier last week continued his crusade, saying, according to the Mail & Guardian and the South African Press Association, “one of the many reasons in the minister’s arsenal of excuses was that there was ‘no link’ between the interim reports and the Defence Amendment Bill.”
The pugnacious DA MP said the “fact is there is a link between the interim reports and the Defence Amendment Bill. “The primary objective of the Defence Amendment Bill was to establish a permanent Defence Force service commission.” He told his fellow MPs he had found that the interim report recommended the establishment of a service commission and several pages were devoted to recommendations covering the appointment, terms of reference, functions, staffing and reporting responsibilities of the proposed commission.
Maynier went on to tell Parliament that the “real clincher” was that the interim report contained a draft Defence Amendment Bill, the M&G said. “How is it possible that an interim report, which contains a draft Defence Amendment Bill, is not linked to the Defence Amendment Bill?”
“The fact is that the minister has been caught out telling a big political fib to this Parliament. And [the] minister should now take steps to stop the bleeding and hand over the interim reports to this Parliament.”
Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty than raise a point of order, questioning whether it was possible to “attack the integrity of a member of this House without bringing about a substantive motion”. Sisulu then said he would study the matter and come back with a ruling. At the end of members’ statement time, he delivered one, SAPA reported.
“Saying the honourable minister of defence and military veterans told this Parliament ‘a big political fib’ is tantamount to saying the minister lied to Parliament – a serious charge, and one that is definitely unparliamentary, and in this case, without any substantive motion,” he ruled. He then asked Maynier to withdraw the statement. “Speaker, with respect, I refuse to withdraw the statement,” Maynier told him, and was then asked by Sisulu to leave the chamber, which he did. The M&G noted he “was then escorted from Parliament.”
In a statement issued later in the afternoon, DA Chief Whip Ian Davidson said the party stood fully behind Maynier and his statement. “The DA stands fully behind … Maynier …, and the comments that he made in Parliament today regarding Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s handling of the national defence force service commission report.
“…Maynier’s expulsion from Parliament, by Speaker Max Sisulu, is unacceptable. It is Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s behaviour that is unparliamentary, and warrants rebuke. “Minister Sisulu has repeatedly been uncooperative with Parliament, contravening her constitutional duties to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency.” Davidson said it was only fair and right that such conduct was brought to Parliament’s, and by extension, the South African public’s attention.
In another spat, the defence ministry two weeks ago in a media statement described Maynier’s comments as “lies being spread to discredit the SANDF and its leaders for political gain.” It added morale in the SANDF was in fact “very high; soldiers have been deployed recently to the borders. They run 74 hospitals during the public service strike and are making us proud at the borders.”
The intemperate statement added: “We reject the lies and ongoing campaign by David Maynier to negatively project the SANDF. It is a known fact that he hates the SANDF and will do anything to bad mouth and spread lies about the organisation,” it said.
Last month, Sisulu ended her speech in support of the National Assembly adopting a Defence Amendment Bill by what was seen as an attack on Maynier. “…those who did not support the Bill and been very vocal in misleading the public, the same public will in time understand that your motives in the committees [sic] have been deliberate and treacherously unpatriotic.”