Soldiers turn to ‘God’ for better posts

2012-04-14 15:12

Give money to your God and score a well-paying international mission.

That is the deal being offered to soldiers at the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Grahamstown (Eastern Cape) base by a senior officer who has allegedly set up and is illegally running a church from the base.

The defence force said it is investigating the Church of God, which operates from an empty building previously used as a crèche.

The South African Security Forces Union has slammed the officer running the church, saying he is taking advantage
of poorly-paid junior officers desperate for lucrative overseas assignments.

Some soldiers at the base are furious, saying they are being overlooked for training, promotions and international deployment because they are not members of this church.

One soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said deployment abroad was quite sought-after because it could mean up to R10 000 extra on an officer’s monthly salary.

He said: “Members of this congregation are paying a tenth of their monthly salary as tithes, so if they are deployed abroad their tithes also increased considerably.”

Another soldier said most of the congregants were youngsters who were on a two-year contract as part of the army’s Military Skills Development System. “They are so desperate to have their contracts renewed, they will do anything.”

Puseletso Molise, from the forces union, said recruits who joined the army as part of the Military Skills Development System spent a year in training and were deployed for a year.

Many were unemployed and desperate once their contracts expired, said Molise, adding that the union had received several complaints about the so-called Church of God.

“The matter was brought to us in September last year and due processes should take its course. But this situation is immoral and seems to be aimed at taking advantage of soldiers who are living on very low incomes,” said Molise.

“This is a senior employee who is earning more than the young and lowest paid workers who are being exploited, and as a union we cannot allow this.

“We are looking into the matter, but according to us it is against the rules to have a church on the army base. There are chaplain services at all army bases in the country that serve members of the SANDF spiritually. We furthermore found that this church is not even registered.”

The senior officer who runs the Church of God could not be reached for comment. He is confirmed, however, as a senior member of the Six South African Infantry Battalion.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alton Gysman, the commanding officer at the infantry battalion in Grahamstown, confirmed that he has received complaints about the church.

“An investigation into the church has been launched,” he said without going into details.

Another soldier who wished to remain anonymous said the officer in charge of the church was very influential.

He explained: “Everything must be authorised by this guy. He is responsible for authorising training necessary for promotion to a higher rank or to be deployed elsewhere.

“If you are a recruit as part of the Military Skills Development System and your two-year contract is about to expire, this guy can help you get another position.”

City Press called two soldiers who were rumoured to be congregants of the Church of God.

They both denied being involved, although one said he knew somebody who had been with the church for some time.

He said most members of the church were currently deployed in Sudan and that the majority were from Cape Town.

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