Originally produced for Mail & Guardian.
The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “shocked” Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula used a South African Air Force helicopter to visit the contentious Tlokwe municipality to receive a memorandum.
Sandu national secretary JG Greeff labelled the action as a “poor show of leadership and outright lawlessness”, saying even though the trip was conducted at the instruction of the president, using state resources to deal with “internal party political struggles” is illegal.
Greeff also noted that any soldier who had used a military aircraft for any non-military purpose would be criminally prosecuted. “Yet now they witness their own minister doing the same and then making lame, unconvincing and disingenuous excuses for unlawful conduct,” said Greef.
“The department of defence has by this dishonest attitude forfeited permanently the right to raise the matter of military discipline with soldiers and will remain tainted and discredited with the ordinary rank and file of the South African National Defence Force,” continued Greeff, demanding that an inquiry be convened to deal with the matter.
Greeff also pointed out that the minister’s action contravened the constitutional requirement of an apolitical military.
Sandu not alone
Sandu’s statement follows on the heels of a similar statement released on Tuesday by the Democratic Alliance.
DA MP David Maynier said, “The minister’s use of a military helicopter for a party political engagement is an abuse of state resources. It also contradicts the ministerial handbook.”
Maynier said the DA intended to submit parliamentary questions on whether the flight had been approved by the secretary of defence, the total cost of the trip and whether this was an isolated incident or not.
Sonwabo Mbananga, Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson responded, saying the trip had been made at the request of the president and the military helicopter had been used as the Tlokwe situation was volatile and needed urgent attention.
Earlier this month, former mayor of Tlokwe Maphetle Maphetle was voted out of office in what the ANC labelled an “illegal” council meeting. Fourteen ANC members were suspended for voting against the party.
DA councillor Annette Combrink was voted in as the new mayor. Combrink had originally replaced Maphetle after ANC factions in the municipality passed a motion of no-confidence in him in November. However, Maphetle resumed his post in February.
During the DA’s tenure, a forensic investigation was conducted in municipal irregularities that revealed that the council had bought Maphetle a R736 000-customised Mercedes-Benz and that he had abused both municipality’s disaster management and poverty relief funds.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela said last month that she would investigate the corruption charges that the DA laid against Maphetle in May.