Zuma: Unionised soldiers risky for SA

2009-09-17 18:32

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday questioned the right of soldiers to belong to trade unions, saying this could put the country's security at risk.

"You can imagine South Africa being attacked and soldiers having grievances and going on strike," he told reporters at Tuynhuys in Cape Town.

"Soldiers are not like other workers... soldiers are different. The SANDF may serve the public, but they are not public servants.

"It would be a very funny notion if we say that the security of the country rests with the unions."

In remarks recalling his perceived attack on the highest court in the land in April, Zuma said a Constitutional Court ruling in 1998 that all workers have the right to engage in collective bargaining, should not be seen as cast in stone.

"I have seen judgments being turned over again and again. Not once but many times. So it is not when a judgment is made as though heaven has spoken."


Zuma caused an outcry before the elections when he said Constitutional Court judges were fallible and a democracy could not have "people who are almost like god".

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko last week confirmed that Cabinet was mulling banning military unions, but added the government would "have to consider" the relevant court ruling in this regard.

His remarks came after Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said it had perhaps been a mistake to allow soldiers to form a union.

Military Service Commission

Zuma said labour grievances of members of the SA National Defence Force must be addressed, but suggested the appropriate forum for this would be the planned Military Service Commission, which was announced last week.

"It will determine the norms and standards for the military, and will also regulate the conditions of service of members of the military," he said.

"The high standards of behaviour we expect from them, necessitates that special attention be paid to their working conditions, their renumeration, their pensions and generally, their place in society."

Zuma, who is commander in chief of the armed forces, described the illegal protest by soldiers in Pretoria in demand of higher pay late last month as "despicable in the extreme".

The protest turned violent and police fired teargas and rubber bullets to prevent the soldiers from entering the Union Buildings.

"Marching to the Union Buildings, a seat of government that they are meant to protect, cannot be an action that one would expect from a disciplined force," the president said.

Cabinet has given its support to Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's decision to fire some 1 300 soldiers for taking part in the protest.

Their immediate dismissal was blocked by the High Court in Pretoria last week following an application from the SA National Defence Union.