The Democratic Alliance (DA) believes that as military unions threaten to take action in solidarity of striking public service workers, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, should urgently begin the process of de-unionising the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The defence force have been absolute champions during the public service strike. The military - including doctors, nurses and ops medics - have plugged the health service gap left by striking workers in more than fifty hospitals.
But now, Bheki Mvovo, President of the South African Security Forces Union (Sasfu), has called for "actions in solidarity" of striking workers and has criticised the use of soldiers as "scab labour" in hospitals. The actions in solidarity of striking public service workers will reportedly include protest marches and pickets by defence force members.
Not only could these actions seriously disrupt and cause complete chaos in the health services being provided during the public sector strike at public hospitals across South Africa, but it is also completely unacceptable for professional military personnel to be engaging in protest action, as it undermines the chain of command. We would not want a repeat of the Union Buildings incident.
Bheki Mvovo is a serving military officer - holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander - in the South African Navy (SAN). However, he has:
• publically called for the dismissal of Chief of the South African Navy Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu;
• publically accused the minister of defence and military veterans of having "dictatorial tendencies";
• in the past reportedly threatened that military doctors and nurses would join industrial action; and
• recently presented a joint statement on defence legislation in parliament with Cosatu which raises serious questions about whether Sasfu are in fact affiliated or associated with Cosatu in contravention of defence force regulations.
That is why the defence department were forced to secure an interdict against Lieutenant Commander Bheki Mvovo which instructs him to "desist from making inflammatory statements intended to incite mutiny, revolt and illegal behaviour".
The behaviour of Bheki Mvovo and Sasfu make a very persuasive case to de-unionise the defence force.
The fact is that the military cannot have two bosses in the form of President Jacob Zuma, who is the commander in chief of the defence force, and to Zwelinzima Vavi, who appears to be the commander in chief, of Sasfu.
President Jacob Zuma was clear about government's position on military unions at Cosatu's 10th National Congress on 21 September 2009. He said that government "took a position "in favour of the deunionisation of the military".
However, the minister of defence and military veterans seems to have developed a serious case of political cold feet and has done nothing in the past eleven months to begin the process of de-unionising the defence force. The Secretary of Defence, Mpumi Mpofu, recently confirmed that there had been no directive from the minister of defence and military veterans on military unions.This has in effect undermined President Jacob Zuma's position on the de-unionization of the defence force.
The DA will therefore call on Nyami Booi, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, to schedule a meeting for the minister of defence and military veterans to brief the portfolio committee on plans to de-unionise the defence force.