NEWS & ANALYSIS

Soldiers are no ordinary public servants - Jacob Zuma

Text of presidential statement on the SANDF, crime and the presidential hotline

Media statement by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr JG Zuma, Tuynhuys, Cape Town, September 17 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to this general media briefing to update you on a number of activities and processes that we are engaged in.

I will talk about a few issues including those in the security arena.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF)

September 2009 marks the 10th anniversary of our engagement in peacekeeping missions on the continent.

It provides an opportunity for us to reflect and appreciate the role of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the pride it instils in the country and the continent.

The SANDF has been consistent in its capacity to meet all our obligations at home and abroad. Domestically, our soldiers have played a visible role in alleviating suffering amongst civilians in times of disaster and emergency.

During the doctor's strike in June, the South African Medical Health Services selflessly attended to the sick and injured in hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State, Western Cape and Mpumalanga. The National Defence Force also plays a meaningful role in the promotion of democracy.

Working with the other security forces, it contributed to successful and peaceful elections in April this year and also in previous elections. Furthermore, the SANDF made an important contribution in support of the police to ensure a successful FIFA Confederations Cup tournament.

Most importantly, the professionalism and excellence of our soldiers in peacekeeping missions on the continent has been recognised by both the African Union and the United Nations.

Our soldiers are deployed as far a field as Burundi, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan. Indeed wherever our army has been called upon to intervene, it has made a difference.

A fitting tribute to marking the 10th anniversary of participation in peace missions is the honour bestowed on South Africa to host Southern African Development Community's (SADC's) Exercise Golfinho which is currently taking place in Lohathla in the Northern Cape. The purpose of the training exercise is to further prepare the SADC Brigade to participate in military peace missions.

On behalf of all South Africans, we applaud the commitment, patriotism and dedication of our soldiers. There are very few components of the State which have such a high calling; which demands selflessness, bravery in the face of danger, the highest levels of discipline and absolute loyalty to the Constitution.

We wish to emphasise that the SANDF is and should be operational 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Our soldiers should always be ready to serve; ready to protect our sovereignty; ready to defend the Constitution. Such sacrifice and commitment is highly regarded by the State and our people.

However, the conduct of the group that marched to the Union Buildings in August this year was despicable in the extreme. The discipline of the SANDF must at all times be kept at the highest professional standard to ensure the public's confidence in the SANDF's ability to protect and defend the people, values and the interests of the Republic of South Africa.

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 matter is being handled by the department with our support. We have noted and acknowledged the grievances, and government is committed to improving the conditions of service.

The final stages of the transformation process being undertaken by the Department of Defence, now necessitates recognition of the uniqueness of the military.

We can no longer treat the members of the National Defence Force as if they were ordinary public servants. The SANDF may serve the public, but they are not public servants. They may receive a salary at the end of every month, but they are not ordinary workers. The high standard of behaviour we expect from them, necessitates that special attention be paid to their working conditions, their remuneration, their pensions and generally, their place in society.

It is for the reasons set out above, that we are to establish a Military Service Commission, along the same lines as the Public Service Commission. It will determine the norms and standards for the military, and will also regulate the conditions of service of members of the military.

It will respond to, and accommodate the special needs of the military. In doing so, the Commission will accurately reflect the importance we attach to this crucial organ of State. As Commander-in-Chief I take a very keen interest in the establishment of this Commission. I have instructed the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans to ensure that this is done without delay. Let me emphasise that I have full confidence in the SANDF. I am very proud of the achievements of our soldiers and their commitment to protecting this country and its people.

We also acknowledge our military veterans, who for the very first time, are now catered for in the Department of Defence and Military Veterans. We owe our freedom, democracy, Constitution, peace, stability and respect for human rights that we now enjoy in our country since 1994 to our military veterans. They sacrificed their youth for our liberation.

We acknowledge the need to attend to the needs of military veterans, and have signalled our intention to elevate their issues through expanding the focus of the Department of Defence to include military veterans.

Protest actions

We have noted the beginning of worker strikes and other forms of protest action in other sectors this week.

We trust that all actions taken will be peaceful and orderly. The extreme manner in which some of our citizens tend to express their grievances lately is totally unacceptable.

We are concerned about the culture of extremity in everything. What would in other countries be petty crime, in our country becomes violent crime as some people kill even for a cellular phone. There is something seriously wrong with such conduct.

The Constitution gives all citizens and all who reside within our borders, the right to assemble and demonstrate and to picket and present petitions peacefully. However, all the above rights need to be exercised within the confines of the law and in consideration of those that might not share one's grievance. It is therefore important for everyone not to trample on any citizen's rights in the process of exercising theirs.

We cannot continue to loot shops, burn tyres, throw garbage on our streets, blockade roads, damage property or most disturbingly, march in violation of court orders to voice your dissatisfaction. We have instructed our law enforcement agencies, including police and traffic authorities, to deal harshly and firmly with any member of our society who breaks the law through acts of violence, intimidation or destruction of property. We need to work together to understand these basic principles of our law and our democracy.

The fight against crime

Our government continues to take the fight against crime forward seriously. When we announced the appointment of a new Police Commissioner recently, we stated that dealing with cash-in-transit heists would be amongst our key focus areas.

A few days ago, with the assistance of members of the community, police foiled a cash-in-transit robbery in Pretoria. It is the duty of the police to protect all people against injury or loss of life. But when their lives or the lives of innocent civilians are threatened, police sometimes have no choice but to use lethal force to defend themselves and others. However, we expect our police officers to observe the law and respect the rights of innocent citizens, at all times.

We were also shocked by the incident in Mitchells Plein in Cape Town. Mr Vincent Naidoo, a member of the street committee in his community, was tragically and cruelly shot dead by gang members while manning an anti-crime vigil. I phoned Mrs Emmerentia Nicholson of the Street Committee this morning and extended our condolences. I informed her that as government we support them in their work and that they should not step back at all. The criminals should not win.

I was unfortunately unable to reach Mrs Naidoo on the telephone before this briefing, to personally extend my condolences. However, Minister Trevor Manuel visited the family on our behalf last night. We also extend condolences to the family of the Reverend Monde Magojo whose car was hijacked by violent criminals as he drove to the public meeting were held in Matatiele over the weekend. They killed him, robbing the nation of a dedicated community worker. Our hearts go out to all families who have lost their loved ones to crime.

Presidential hotline

On Monday this week we launched the Presidential hotline on a pilot basis. Despite the inevitable initial hiccups, we are pleased with progress made. We are happy that we will be able to assist the very first caller that came through on Monday morning, from Mt Frere in the Eastern Cape.

She had a complaint about failure to receive her deceased husband's pension money from his employer's pension fund. The King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality has acknowledged that there is an outstanding amount of money due to the caller, and said they had been unable to locate her as she had moved from her place of residence. Staff will follow this matter until the money has been given to her.

We have instructed our staff to treat each case as if it was the only one, and to follow cases through until resolution. The teams include 21 at the Presidency, who are backed by 50 agents at the State Information Technology Agency as well as 43 public liaison officers who do follow ups in government departments and offices of Premiers.

International relations

Next week, we will address the 64th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

South Africa will again argue for the need for reform within the UN system, including in the Security Council, to ensure that it is more representative, transparent and responsive to the needs of developing nations.

After the UN General Assembly, we will travel to Pittsburgh for a summit of the G20 nations. This meeting will need to review the implementation of the measures agreed to in London earlier this year to respond to the global economic crisis. South Africa will continue to promote steps to transform international financial regulatory mechanisms, to ensure that the current crisis is not likely to recur.

Following the G20, we will travel to Venezuela for the second Africa-South America Summit. This is an important meeting, not only for the historic ties of kinship between these two continents, but because of the strategic partnerships that can be formed. Economically, politically and socially there is much that can be derived from closer cooperation between the countries of Africa and South America.
Sports

Earlier today, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe met the Homeless World Cup winners. This is an annual football event, which uses sport to create social change by offering homeless and marginalised people an opportunity to participate in a team sport, build their confidence, improve their health, and change their lives.

Over 70 percent of participants go on to improve their lives by no-longer using drugs and alcohol, moving into homes, jobs, education, training, repairing relationships and becoming coaches or players with semi-pro teams. We congratulate the team on winning the City of Milan Cup Final.

We also reiterate our congratulations to the Springbok Rugby Team on winning the Tri-Nations for the third time. Our congratulations also go to the sterling work of the Coach Pieter de Villiers who has ensured that the Springboks have gone from strength to strength since winning the World Cup in 2007.

South Africa will once again confirm its status as a premier destination for world class cricket when it hosts the ICC Champions Trophy, starting from 22 September to 05 October.

We extend a warm welcome to the world's best cricketing nations as they come to our shores, many of them for the second time this year.

I thank you.

Issued by The Presidency, September 17 2009

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