Cabinet slams illegal protest by soldiers

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cape Town - Cabinet has slammed the illegal and violent protest by members of the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) at the Union Buildings on Wednesday.

"Defying a court order, engaging in unnecessary violent behaviour, causing damage to private and public property and attempting to invade the seat of government is totally unacceptable, especially from people who have the responsibility of being the true defenders of the Constitution," said Government Spokesperson Themba Maseko.

He was briefing the media in Cape Town on Thursday, following an ordinary cabinet meeting.

Thousands of members of the SANDU on Wednesday embarked on an illegal march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, demanding a 30 percent wage increase.

This was despite the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, securing a High Court interdict against the march.

The protest turned violent when marchers arriving at the Union Buildings were not allowed access to the property. According to media reports, police fired rubber bullets at protesters who refused to disperse after handing over a memorandum of grievances.

Mr Maseko said that the time was fast approaching where the state could not be expected to stand by while the laws of the land were trampled on, public and private property was being destroyed and untold damage was being caused to the country's reputation as a stable and emerging democracy.

He said most importantly, government could not stand by while the rights of law abiding citizens were infringed upon in the name of protesting.

"All those who were involved in this unruly behaviour must expect no sympathy from the state, as the law will take its course," said Mr Maseko.

This comes as Defence and Military Veterans Ministerial spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya, said soldiers who were implicated in the march would be suspended with immediate effect and without pay.

He told BuaNews that army generals were meeting in Pretoria this morning to discuss the behaviour of the soldiers affiliated to SANDU.

Mr Mabaya said it was unclear at this stage how many soldiers took part in the march as they had not been uniformed. "However, we are doing an audit as to what happened," he said.

Two people were arrested at the scene and are facing charges of public violence. A third suspect was arrested allegedly for possessing an illegal firearm. Mr Mabaya said they would face the Military Tribunal.

"There is no place in the SANDF for soldiers who don't want to follow the rule of law," he added.

The department is consulting with its lawyers as to whether the SANDU can be held accountable for damage to state property as a result of the march. Yesterday a military vehicle was set alight, allegedly by protesters.

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said she had been dismayed with the decision by the union to abandon the bargaining chamber and other formal platforms of negotiation, especially as they had been on the brink of finalising an agreement.

SANDU National Regional Organiser Alfred Stok has meanwhile denied that any of its members had been arrested. He said their members were in fact admitted to the One Military Hospital for medical treatment, after they were shot at, with rubber bullets.