Strikes by soldiers place national security at risk - Sisulu

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cape Town - The publicised strike and subsequent absenteeism of large numbers of soldiers from their bases leaves the country's national security at risk, says Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.

"The nation's security is placed at risk by the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) publicly announcing the potential work abandonment or absence of such a large number of soldiers.

"The bases from which these soldiers are being mobilized would be without adequate protection thus exposing them to potential raids by criminals and other elements that may seize the opportunity to steal weapons and other SANDF property," said the minister.

Ms Sisulu called a special press conference this afternoon condemning the behaviour of thousands of SANDU members on Wednesday.

The members embarked on an illegal march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria demanding a 30 percent wage increase. This was despite the minister securing a High Court interdict against the march.

The protest turned violent when marchers arriving at the Union Buildings were not allowed access. According to media reports, police fired rubber bullets when protesters tried to gain access to the property.

The minister said she could not allow "thuggish behaviour by our armed forces".

She insisted that she wanted the public to understand that the situation was not merely about the rights of ordinary citizens to exercise their constitutional right to participate in peaceful protest marches.

"SANDU publicly announced that it planned a nationwide protest accompanied by a march to the Union Buildings. This potentially leaves our military bases unprotected and without a sufficient number of soldiers available to assist the police as the need arises," she said.

Further to this, while soldiers were engaged in their protest, they were effectively beyond the command of the SANDF and the President who is the Commander in Chief of the SANDF.

The minister said it was illegal for SANDF members to mobilize, to leave bases en masse in order to participate in national protest marches which render them unavailable to assist the police should the need arise.

"Soldiers are not employees as ordinarily understood but enrolled in the SANDF. They are subject to the Military Discipline Code and any misconduct on their part is governed by the Military Discipline Code and constitutes a criminal offence," said the minister.

South Africa's courts recognize the military as essential services, and therefore they are prohibited to strike.

She also blamed SANDU which had "incited" its members to leave their bases en masse to take part in protest march.

"Obviously, I cannot turn blind eye to the potentially serious ramifications of SANDU's protest marches. I have issued appropriate instructions to our military commanders to ensure that swift and effective disciplinary measures are taken against all soldiers who engaged in acts of lawlessness.

"I need to send a clear and unequivocal message that the Military Discipline Code shall be strictly enforced and that errant undisciplined elements shall be uprooted from the ranks of our defence force."

She said the department was planning "drastic" measures to hold SANDU and its leadership accountable for the damages to property and vandalism.