Govt must review unionisation of army, say veterans

The government must review the unionisation of the military, veterans said on Monday.

“... We have and will always oppose the unionisation of the security cluster, especially based on the fact that there is a thin line between mutiny and protest action by soldiers,” the Umkhonto weSizwe and Azanian People’s Liberation Army military veterans’ associations (MKMVA and APLAMVA) said in a statement.

Soldiers were the protectors of the Constitution and their allegiance lay with the country, they said, adding that there was always an expectation that a soldier’s patriotic actions be defined by pride, honour, duty and sacrifice.

“We therefore call on ... President Jacob Zuma, Parliament, government and the judiciary to review the unionisation of the security cluster, which includes the defence, the police, intelligence and the metro police.

“It is in the best interests of the nation that the security cluster is de-unionised.

“The state has a responsibility to take care of the members of the security establishment and to make sure they are treated with the dignity deserved of those who bear allegiance to the flag.

“There are proper channels of communication within the security cluster, and where there is a need for improvement, it should be done,” MKMVA and APLAMVA said.

They were reacting to last Wednesday’s violent protest over pay by soldiers, which left a policeman and several soldiers injured and all troops who took part under threat of dismissal.

Before the protest, the South African Nation Defence Union said it had waited five weeks for a response by the employer to wage demands tabled in the military bargaining council.

This meant collective bargaining on the improvement of soldiers’ salaries had effectively come to a standstill, it said.

On Monday, the veterans said this form of strike action should not be condoned and could never be justified.

“The tendency that is developing whereby everyone protests every time there is a problem without interacting or going through the correct channels is disturbing, as it breeds a culture of non-engagement and feeds a culture of unpatriotic citizenship,” they said.

“We must always remember that there are lives that were sacrificed, and the cost to attain these freedoms and rights was paid with the highest price that we can never even repay.”

The veterans acknowledged there were problems in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and that there had been ever since it was integrated with the former liberation armies.

“Officers from the former South African Defence Force have over the years failed to address the grievances that have been raised ...,” they said.

“Our members have been discharged by the same people as they are not supportive of the transformation in the national defence force.

“The salary parity in the army is a disgrace and a major concern as the low-rank members of the national defence force are earning less than security guards and this is unacceptable in light of their duty and responsibility.”

Among other things hampering morale in the SANDF were the removal of the benefits that previously offset soldiers’ low salaries and the failure to promote veterans, some of whom were taking home salaries of R600 after deductions.

Nonetheless, there were “channels of engagement”, like the bargaining council, they said.

“... All parties must be honest and the representative of our people’s government must be responsive to the grievances raised.”

They had resolved to meet Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu to “discuss and resolve” the issues threatening the country’s stability and undermining the SANDF’s role, the veterans said.—Sapa

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