This week in 1994: Democracy 25

SANDF members on protest
Reading Time: 3 minutes

On 9 September 1994, members of the South African army protested for the first time in history.

Most of them were disgruntled former ANC guerrillas.

They walked from the Walmansthal military base to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

The move came just five months after the official integration process of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK),  Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) as well as the former homeland armed forces of the former Transkei, Boputhatswana, Venda and the Ciskei began.

The armies were all absorbed into the South African Defence Force (SADF) to create the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

While the soldiers didn’t reveal their reason for this, it was initially suspected that the protest had to do with services rendered outside the country during the armed struggle against apartheid.

Issues of equal rights and pay also cropped up.

Then President Nelson Mandela nonetheless managed to diffuse the situation.

He addressed the soldiers, assuring them that their concerns would be addressed.

Two other protests in Durban and Cape Town followed in 1995.

The majority of the protesters also returned to their bases after an address by Mandela. Those who didn’t were either discharged or taken to the military court, known as the court martial.

Watch report on the soldiers’ long walk to the Union Buildings:

Teething problems

The 9 September 1994 protest had come amid simmering tensions on camp.

In August, APLA cadres had expressed dissatisfaction with the SADF’s dominance in the country’s new army.

The soldiers also complained about the integration system being slow and the demotion of some of their leaders.

Former MK and APLA soldiers received lower salaries and ranks compared to their white counterparts from the former SADF due to their training and competence.

Qualifications were needed for them to qualify for leadership ranks and most of the liberation movement soldiers didn’t have matric as some had skipped the country in their youth escaping the brutality of the apartheid government, which constantly hunted down, harassed, tortured and brutally killed activists.

In addition, former non-statutory soldiers initially didn’t have uniforms and were not provided with pensions as had previously been promised.

Watch APLA soldiers expressing their concerns:

SANDF leaders felt the soldiers had had high expectations and needed time to adjust to their new life.

“The troops are at the moment receiving daily allowance not salaries. They are also comparing two different forces and they don’t understand the process,” said former SANDF Commander Major-General Wiliam Nkonyeni.

In April 1995, the military began a demobilisation process, allowing former MK and APLA fighters who did not want to be in the army or couldn’t serve due to physical challenges to stand down voluntarily.

Parliament also passed the Demobilisation Act the following year, which extended the demobilisation to older SANDF members who either couldn’t continue serving due to age or health reasons.