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End to unions in SANDF imminent

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu says action will be taken 'once all the building blocks are in place'.

In a wide-ranging interview with Mmanaledi Mataboge Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu reveals that she is considering a constitutional ­amendment to ban unions from the military and blames the media for the death of Retlabusa Mokonyane, the son of Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

You seem to have made a final decision about banning unions in the SANDF. How soon will the decision be implemented?
We’ve been studying international best practice around the world. In all the countries we’ve come across only two (Germany and Denmark) allow trade unions.

There aren’t any in the developing world. In fact, Africa is shocked by the very idea that there should be unions in the defence force. We’ll implement the decision when we’re convinced that we’ve put all our building blocks in place. We’ve understood what the Constitutional Court is saying and we’ve worked out the necessary steps. But it will be soon.

Will it involve amending the Constitution?
Ultimately, it will. 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 interim commission found shortfalls in the defence force: deeply compromised health services, poor ­transport services, poor living conditions and an illegitimate career-management system.
This is the first report we’ve had in the 16 years of the national democratic dispensation. Yes, it’s very hard-hitting and we’ve taken note of it. But it does point out things that have gone right. We need to give recognition to the people who have served the defence force tirelessly. The report is also quite damning on the department of public works because we depend on it for our infrastructure. We hope to move away from public works and do our own repairs.

Why do you have such a poor working relationship with MPs?
I’m familiar with the Constitution and the rules of Parliament. I represented the ANC in 1993 when we were drafting the rules of how we were going to go into Parliament. I’ve been saying to MPs, especially those of the Democratic Alliance, that there are rules. You don’t come into a netball game and pick up a hockey stick. It’s more attractive to go outside the rules because you cause a bigger stir, but it is not right for democracy.

Are you getting away with murder in Parliament because your brother (Max Sisulu) is the Speaker?
I’ve been a member of the executive since 1996. Why would I wait until now to take advantage? My friend [Baleka] Mbete was there. I probably would have taken better advantage of her than this one, who’s a very stern man. He doesn’t mess around.

Your name has come up for the ANC deputy presidency in 2012.
At no point has anybody approached me. I read about it in the newspapers. At the national general council we took a definite step in regard to the fact that we find this a very destructive force. It’s also extremely unfair to the person who’s been named. It creates a particular perception: “Is she now on stilettos because she’s been named?” It creates an environment that’s not conducive for ANC members to work.

What are your views on the proposed media appeals tribunal?
It’s a decision taken at the NGC and it’s binding. The media has destroyed lives. By the time we buried Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, after everybody came to reflect on her life, it was completely different from the caricature that was presented day in and day out, which violated her rights.

I’ve just come back from the funeral of a beautiful 23-year-old boy [Retlabusa Mokonyane, the son of Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane]. And you know why he hanged himself? The media persecuted him. All of us come from families where there might be children who get up to the kind of trouble that any 18-year-old or 21-year-old gets up to. That is part of their growing up. But this one is persecuted because he is the ­premier’s child.


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