Life in the army is terrible, says soldier
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Despite the heavy police deployment that cordoned Lenasia Recreation Centre, south of Johannesburg, Private Taliwe Nkululeko, a soldier with the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) stayed put waiting for the arrival of Julius Malema.
That the government had earlier described Wednesday's planned meeting at which the disgruntled soldiers planned to voice their grievances as "counter revolutionary", and warned of a possible crackdown seemed to dampen the mood at the venue.
Most plastic seats inside the hall remained vacant as people lurked about the compound.
When Malema finally arrived, people clambered through the door and the hall filled up within minutes. The venue ignited into singing and dancing.
"Malema is our hope," explained Nkululeko. "Everybody in government and civil society listens to him."
"Life in the army is terrible," he said. "A monthly salary of R8 000 for my rank as private is peanuts and can't sustain a family with all the daily social needs. We need about R20 000 gross salary. Soldiers are in charge of the security of the country and our welfare needs to be decently considered if we are to render diligent service."
Nkululeko's concerns stretched beyond his salary.
"I joined the army in 1992 but I have never received any military promotion. It's demoralising to see people whom I joined with and those who joined much later in high ranks," he said. "There's tribalism in the military promotion."
A suspended SANDF soldier, Corporal Oupa Manaba, said that although their struggle to better the welfare of soldiers started during the government of Thabo Mbeki in 2009, the state hadn't complied with their demands to raise the pay of soldiers.
"That's an indicator that the government doesn't give priority to issues that concern us. Rather than intimidate us, concerned authorities must absorb our grievances and work out a mode of redress. We are not against anybody in authority, we are trying to voice our plight. Lately, whoever does that is labelled an enemy," Oupa said.
Malema backed the aggrieved soldiers urging them not to drop their demands for better welfare until the government provides a solution.
Malema said whereas military men are nurtured to be disciplined during training, this couldn't be maintained at the expense of better welfare.
"Military discipline doesn't mean that you must keep quiet when things are going wrong. That's not military discipline but military stupidity," Malema exclaimed.