SA mutineer: ‘I live in poverty’

Solly Pholokgophelo is one of thousands of South African soldiers who have been sacked for taking part in a violent protest to demand more pay. But the 46 year old, who has served the South African National Defence Force for 23 years, does not have the face of a mutineer.
South African Riot Police quelling soldiers protests with tear gas
South African Riot Police quelling soldiers protests with tear gas

Solly Pholokgophelo is one of thousands of South African soldiers who have been sacked for taking part in a violent protest to demand more pay.

But the 46 year old, who has served the South African National Defence Force for 23 years, does not have the face of a mutineer.

He says on his monthly earnings of about $330 (£200) after tax he is barely able to support his three children and his ex-wife.

“I am earning peanuts. At my age, where I am nearer to my pension, to earn 3,000 rand is unacceptable,” he told the BBC.

Mr Pholokgophelo is a qualified army instructor although he says his rank has not improved his standard of living.
His home is a small shack in an informal settlement outside Ga-Rankuwa, an old Pretoria township.

“I have been living here for the past three years. This was my only alternative,” he says.

“I can’t even afford [to buy] a bicycle just to do some shopping. Sometimes I have to walk 10km just to get to a shopping complex,” he says

In 2006, he was offered a promotion which meant leaving his home, Mafikeng, in the North West Province, but he says life in the capital has not been easy
“My living conditions here are terrible,” he says.

“When it rains I cannot even sleep. I have to save my clothes and equipment from the water that comes in.
“When it’s windy I worry that the shack will get blown away.”

He is one of thousands of older servicemen who say they are living a hand-to-mouth existence.

South Africa has one of the highest proportions of soldiers in their 30s and 40s - many of whom earn about $100 a month less than the average wage of an entry level soldier.
There is also a big discrepancy between how much soldiers and policemen are paid, a cause of tension between the two forces.

An entry level soldier is believed to be paid 53% less than a police officer of the same rank.

Up to 3,000 soldiers clashed with the police on the streets of Pretoria last month during the demonstrations over pay and conditions.

The crowd reportedly become unruly and attacked police cars and the action has been strongly condemned by Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

She says ill-discipline has no place in the military and will not be tolerated.

“People in the defence force have ultimate use of power, not the president, not me - nobody does. They have at their disposal all the ammunition the state owns,” she says.
“We want to be sure at all times that this is the hands of people who have discipline that is 10 times more than you and I,” she said.

Legal battle

But Mr Pholokgophelo says he and his colleagues have legitimate concerns that have gone unaddressed for far too long.  And he maintains that their action was simply to make their voices heard.

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu), the union responsible for organising the march, says it was illegal for the government to sack their members.

It is threatening to take legal action to overturn the defence ministry’s decision and is currently trying to mount a defence.

But Ms Sisulu has raised concerns about having a unionised military saying the soldiers’ allegiance should be to the constitution and the country first.

With the possibility of the court action failing, Mr Phokgophelo say he fears for his children’s future.
He says it will be difficult to find a new job when the country has gone into its first recession in 17 years.

“I am a father of three, I am afraid as I sit here,” he says.
“I don’t know how I will provide for them if it happens that I am dismissed.”

BBC

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