BLOOD and destruction characterised the illegal march by members of the South African National Defence Force in Pretoria yesterday.
This prompted the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu to suspend the 2000 or so soldiers who took part. Sisulu said the action by the soldiers "represented the worst form of criminality in a democracy".
About 15 soldiers were wounded and police vehicles were damaged when the police dispersed protesters with birdshot and rubber bullets during a march to the Union Buildings, where they planned to deliver a memorandum to President Jacob Zuma.
Hundreds of members of the South African National Defence Union (Sandu) were protesting against poor working conditions and meagre salaries. They claimed to be the lowest paid public servants in the country.
Their march was declared illegal on Tuesday after the Tshwane municipality successfully applied to the court to withdraw permission.
Sandu took the matter to the North Gauteng high court the same evening to demand reasons for the Metro's decision.
At the same time, SANDF's Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant-General Themba Matanzima submitted an affidavit opposing the march, saying the country was on high security alert following the planned exercise in conjunction with SADC members at Lehata in Lesotho.
The court ruled in favour of the SANDF yesterday morning, but by then the striking soldiers had already gathered outside the Union Buildings.
The union also stated that it had received an intelligence report that elements within the army were planning to cause unrest, including kidnapping senior personnel.
Pack of lies
Union officials told members that Matanzima's claims were "a pack of lies which amounted to perjury".
The members insisted on forcing their way into the grounds of the Union Buildings, but were sprayed with water cannons.
They then moved to the entrance used by vehicles and were about to sit down when police opened fire on them.
Sandu's Jeff Dubazana blamed the police for opening fire on the protesters without any prior warning. He said their concern was that the majority of the injured sustained facial and upper body injuries.
At least 15 soldiers were hit by birdshot and rubber bullets as they tried to flee.
Most of them were shot at close range as they were trapped inside the premises. Some tried to scale the fence but were also shot at point blank range.
The protesting soldiers retaliated by attacking police vehicles, setting a military police vehicle alight and smashing windows of at least three police vehicles.
Three soldiers were arrested, one for allegedly being in possession of an unlicensed firearm and two others for damage to property.