News24

Violent troops face Sisulu's wrath

2009-08-26 22:07

Johannesburg - Soldiers who were dispersed with rubber bullets and teargas following an illegal march on Wednesday, will be immediately suspended without pay, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said.

Between 1 000 and 2 000 soldiers face tough disciplinary action and possible criminal prosecution after a pay increase march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria turned violent.

Two soldiers were arrested and handed over to the military police.

"I have instructed the chief of the South African Defence Force to suspend the members who marched today ... with immediate effect," Sisulu told journalists.

"All of those that took part in the march will be given leave without pay," she said.

Close to settlement

The march was organised by members of military union Sandu, currently in talks with the defence force for a 30% pay rise, but Sisulu cast doubt on the group's further participation in negotiations.

"We were quite close to reaching a settlement except that Sandu walked out of the discussions and negotiations," she said.

Describing the group as "thugs", Sisulu said Sandu did not meet the threshold to constitute a union in law, with approximately 15 000 members, only half the number needed for recognition as a trade union.

"We can reach an agreement without them," Sisulu said of talks involving military forums or groups of soldiers divided according to rank.

Protesters damaged cars

South Africa's defence force has negotiated with soldiers on service conditions following a 1999 ruling by the country's highest court.

The march by soldiers to the government buildings was declared illegal on Tuesday.

The soldiers were met with teargas and rubber bullets as they tried to climb over a fence leading to the Union Buildings.

Beeld reported that at least 15 soldiers were hit by birdshot and rubber bullets. They were mostly wounded in the neck and in the head. A policeman's ribs were seriously bruised after a Sandu member threw a large rock at his chest.

"As the protesters were leaving they damaged some cars and set alight a military vehicle," Sapa quoted Defence Department spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya as saying.

Werner Nortjé, a manager of the Sheraton hotel in Church Street, tried to extinguish a vehicle after Sandu members had set fire to it, but about five of them grabbed and assaulted him.

"I didn't even have anything to do with the protest - they simply started beating me," Nortjé told Beeld.