A panic button for Joe Modise could save us all a lot of money
HAVING finally committed ourselves to R30-billion worth of new weaponry over the next few years, we may yet find our gleaming fighter aircraft sitting idle on the runway and our redundant subs bobbing disconsolately about on the water in Simonstown, assuming that somebody has remembered to tie them up. The Pretoria High Court, in its wisdom, has ruled that members of the armed forces can join unions and engage in collective bargaining with their employers which, in this case, is the government.
Admittedly, the decision may still be overturned by the Constitutional Court but that will depend on whether or not the armed forces are deemed to be an essential service under the Labour Relations Act. Currently the Act precludes members of the armed forces and the intelligence agencies (yes, apparently we really do have them) from joining a union and enjoying the right to strike because they are deemed essential services. If the Pretoria decision is upheld then the obvious solution would be to disband the defence force and save ourselves a lot of money because, by implication, they would be non-essential. An alternative defence strategy for the country would then have to be considered.
Personally, I am in favour of outsourcing on something like this. It seems crazy to have all those soldiers hanging around on full pay just in case Lesotho decides to strike back. The whole problem with the perception of the armed forces is that they are not really doing a proper job unless they are out killing people or defending dams in distress. Dressing in battle fatigues and monitoring queues of old people trying to register for the election next year is hardly job satisfaction.
So what the government should probably do is take a tip from Johannesburg's northern suburbs and engage the services of a reliable armed response company. Very few of us want or need a security guard on the property all the time but when we hit the panic button we like to know that somebody will leap over the wall and pepper the retreating backside of the guy filching our TV with buckshot.
The macro version of this would be for Joe Modise to have a panic button which he could push whenever he felt the country might be threatened by invasion, whereupon the armed response control room would phone to ask if this was a genuine call or whether one of his colleagues had mistaken the panic button for the BMW remote control.
Joe would then give his secret code number and armed troops would be swiftly dispatched to deal with insurrection, revolution or illegal smoking in whichever city had the red alarm light flashing. We would pay only a small monthly fee and the purchase and maintenance of equipment would be the problem of the security company. Obviously a full-scale engagement would mean we'd have to chip in for the cost of ammunition. Here again, rather like medical aid, we could elect to go for 100% cover (the enemy gets completely obliterated) or 70% cover for a lower monthly payment (the armed response is limited to land attack and the restoration of essential services like shopping malls, cigar bars and cult cinema complexes).
Given this country's penchant for industrial action, though, the more likely outcome if the Pretoria ruling is upheld would be the creation of a more militant military. For example, prior to an act of engagement, contracts would have to be negotiated and a fair wage for a fair day's slaughter would have to be hammered out around the table before we could go to war. A knee-jerk reaction to invasion without going through the proper channels could have potentially disastrous effects.
War is a notoriously unpredictable occupation and no respecter of the average working man's day. Do we, for example, have to pay time and a half for night attacks?
Should we not be negotiating tea breaks every two hours or thirty rounds of ammunition, whichever is the sooner? To ignore these fundamentals of good management is to invite trouble. Without them we could easily be facing industrial action such as a "shoot-to-rule" where only limited rounds are fired at the enemy until workers' demands are met. Then there are the important peace-time issues of whether the uniform is funky enough and the whole matter of why tanks can't be fitted with more comfortable reclining seats, pink fur on the dashboard and a sophisticated CD sound system with booming bass speakers.