sisulu backed to the hilt

MINISTER of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has all the qualities needed by a defence minister in South Africa.

Having served in government for more than a decade as minister of intelligence, minister of housing and now in the defence portfolio, Sisulu is one of the most senior members of President Jacob Zuma's cabinet.

Daughter of ANC stalwarts Walter and Albertina Sisulu, the minister comes from the bosom of the ANC and has popular support within the ANC national executive committee.

This CV means Sisulu is no pushover and that the ANC is likely to back her efforts to transform the country's armed forces.

Her immediate challenge is to put Cosatu in its place by banning unions in the military and ensuring that the chaos that characterised the recent protest by soldiers does not repeat itself.

Cosatu's recent national general congress took a resolution to block Sisulu's plan to ban unions in the army and to replace them with the Military Service Commission.

The labour federation's president, S'dumo Dlamini, told President Jacob Zuma that Cosatu would fight any attempt to limit the rights of soldiers as workers in South Africa.

He told Zuma - who was elected to the ANC top post through the backing of Cosatu - that he should not be the one responsible for reversing Cosatu's gains.

"Even the previous, difficult administration (of former president Thabo Mbeki) did not try to ban unions in the military."

It would appear Sisulu will win or lose this battle - in the tripartite alliance - and she already has the support of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, the government and Zuma.

ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe said that at the last ANC NEC meeting it had been resolved to de-unionise the army.

'Error realised'

"The recent protest by some members of the SANDF made the NEC realise the error of allowing unionisation of the military.

"The interpretation of the court order in this regard, that a forum for engagement and negotiations needs to be created for soldiers, means unionisation will be revisited," he said.

"The act is very explicit in its prohibition of unions in the military and intelligence," Mantashe said.

The ANC boss said the party wanted the process of getting rid of unions to begin immediately.

Last month Zuma said allowing soldiers to belong to unions could compromise national security.

"You can imagine South Africa being attacked and soldiers having grievances and going on strike, "Zuma said.

"Soldiers are not like other workers ... soldiers are different.

"It would be a very funny notion if we say that the security of the country rests with the unions."

Zuma told a media briefing at Tuynhuys in Cape Town that labour grievances in the military should be resolved by the planned Military 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," he said.

In a jointstatement with veterans of the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the MK veterans association said: "Our stance remains that we have and will always oppose the unionisation of the security cluster - especially based on the fact that there is a thin line between mutiny and protest action by soldiers.

"Soldiers are the protectors of the Constitution and their allegiance lies with the country.

Annual report issue

Another immediate area of concern should be the recent auditor-general's annual report of the Department of Defence - which has found a possible irregular expenditure of R2,9billion on the procurement of the Airbus A400M military transport for the SAAF.

The DA's shadow defence minister David Maynier lists other concerns such as R118,473million in irregular expenses, R4,587million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure and a further unverifiable R193million said to have been paid to consultants.

The A-G - Terrence Nombembe - also highlighted that the department understated its irregular spending and was failing to account for some R77million.

In a statement last week the minister said her department had plans "under way to overhaul the procurement and corporate governance systems to ensure compliance with the Public Finance and Management Act, all treasury and value for money regulations."

Sisulu is expected to appoint a new chief financial officer and secretary of defence.

The secretary of defence post became vacant when January Masilela died in a car crash in August last year.

Defence experts agree Sisulu is the right person for the job and, unlike former defence minister Terror Lekota, who failed to argue for necessary expenditure in defence, Sisulu is expected to make new strides in defence.

Sisulu is expected to argue for the modernisation of the country's ground forces.

But her task is still a tough one, given the unresolved shenanigans surrounding the so-called arms deal.