In an earlier contribution, I expressed the seriousness of the “strike” by some members of the South African National Defence Forces as they forced their way onto the Union Building grounds and had somewhat violent clashes with police. I said how this was yet another reflection of the unrest and civil strife that is currently puncturing the bubble of stability in South Africa, which if left unresolved threatens to blow up into full scale anarchy.
Today I would like to look at this situation from a positive angle (if at all any positives can be yielded from negativity). The events that have unfolded so far in this saga show that to a certain extent, some semblance of democracy still exists in South Africa when compared to many states in Africa and beyond. How often do we hear of soldiers threatening to strike and bargaining for better pay in the same fashion that civilians do? How often do we hear of a National Defence Union or a Security Forces Union? All these point out that like anyone else, military personnel are state employees like other civil servants.
In many authoritarian regimes, the military tends to be the personal security firm of the leadership, who prop up and protect the regime and in return they are allowed to take participate in the plunder of national resources. While I am not saying that the SANDF protesters deserve low salaries, it is refreshing to observe a situation whereby defence personnel do not earn far more than other civil servants just so as to buy their loyalty. In other states, the outcome of such an action as witnessed last week, would have led to the offenders being court marshalled, tortured and even shot as a way of deterring other would be protesters. The rest would have been then given on the spot increments siphoned from Education or Health budgets.
It would come as no surprise if JZ has received phone calls from some of his buddies questioning how he can allow such insanity as picketing soldiers to occur. They are obviously disgusted to hear that soldiers are beig treated as the public seravnts that they are, that high ranking officers can actually give permission for foot soldiers to go on a protest march. They probably wonder if JZ does not know that you have to wine and dine with the rank so that they may keep the file in line. Has he not seen how easily coup d’etats have led to military juntas taking over in some Central and West African states? Does he want the same happening in South Africa and worse still, set a precedence that might spoil the “harmonious” state- military relations existing in neighbouring states? Does he not have the means to print more money to pay these people? Even our supposed epitome of the liberal soldier, Botswana's Lieutenant General Ian Khama might be frowning at this one. A big no – no, someone will have to workshop Msholozi at the next SADC or AU get-together.