S Africa – Malema heads for clash with defence ministry over meetings with disaffected soldiers

Mail and Guardian

Expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and the defence department are set to clash as he moves his political road show to the military.

The government has described a planned meeting at which disaffected soldiers are expected to voice their grievances against the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to Malema, as a “counter-revolutionary” move that will not be tolerated, vowing to crack down on any member of the military who participates.

The Friends of the Youth League, a group formed shortly after Malema’s expulsion from the ANC was ratified in late April, claim SANDF soldiers invited the controversial youth leader to meet them in Lenasia on Wednesday.

“The meeting and ultimate address is as a result of the pleas and requests the armed forces, soldiers of the SANDF, sent to president Julius Malema to come listen to and voice the military and soldiers’ cries and demands,” the group said.

According to an Friends of the Youth League statement, Malema will listen to soldiers’ demands and “speak on the solutions” that will end “unnecessary starvation and threats of dismissals” of soldiers.

“For a considerable amount of time now, South Africa’s important component of its defence force has been marginalised and threatened with dismissal whenever they raise genuine concerns about conditions of work and salaries they receive as workers,” it said.

Forced defence
SANDF members staged an aggressive protest in Pretoria in 2009, marching to the Union Buildings in protest over poor salaries and adverse working conditions. Tshwane police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the approximately 1 000 soldiers after they trashed surrounding streets, damaged cars and set a military vehicle alight.

It still remains unclear as to which members of the SANDF Malema will be addressing and how many are expected at the gathering.

The meeting is being convened even as a recently established SANDF commision sets out to deal with issues relating to the conditions of service for soldiers. A military ombud was also appointed shortly after the 2009 protests, to deal with grievances.

In response, the minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has labelled the meeting “counter-revolutionary”.

“There has been no permission granted by the command structures of the SANDF for any soldiers to participate in the proposed gathering. Any members who participate in such a meeting without proper permission will be subjected to the disciplinary code of the SANDF,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said instability cannot be sown in the South African military.

“The SANDF is the last line of defence of both the sovereignty and integrity of the country and we cannot allow anyone to play political football with this institution. It is simply not going to be tolerated,” she added.

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