/ 1 September 2009

Govt acts against protesting soldiers

South Africa has issued about 2 000 letters of dismissal to soldiers who last week staged an illegal march and tried to storm the seat of government, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

”There are between 1 500 and 2 000 people we are looking at. We have sent out letters of dismissal and they will have 10 days to come and make representations,” ministry spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya told Agence France-Presse.

The government has lashed out at the protest on August 26, when soldiers tried to scale the fence at the Union Buildings, where President Jacob Zuma has an office.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the soldiers, who marched despite a court order barring their protest.

The soldiers were marching to demand higher wages, but the unruly protest has raised questions about the discipline of South Africa’s 62 000-strong military.

Those involved ”must accept no sympathy from the state, as the law will take its course”, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said.

”Defying a court order … 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.”

The protesting soldiers were in plain clothes, but Mabaya said authorities had identified soldiers to be dismissed by those who were not in barracks at the time of the protest.

He said the offence warrants immediate dismissal.

March organisers the South African National Defence Union (Sandu) told the South African Press Association it was seeking an urgent interdict against the soldiers’ dismissal.

Sister military union, the South African Security Forces Union (Sasfu), has thrown its weight behind Sandu and is threatening mass protest action if wage demands are not met.

”We are opposing the entire dismissal. We are calling on the minister of defence to reconsider,” Boysen Lengau, Sasfu general secretary, said. — AFP