26 August, 2009
“Many Have Threatened To Return With Their Own Rifles To Retaliate”
“Footage From A Local Television Station Shows Police Firing Into The Crowd”
“The Demonstrators Responded By Hurling Firebombs At Police Vehicles”
The Associated Press, The Citizen, DPA, Primedia Broadcasting & Al Jazeera
A virtual war broke out in the in the streets of Pretoria, the capital, yesterday with AWOL soldiers storming the Union Building government premises.
There was now the potential that military bases were unprotected and that there was a lack of troops to support police if necessary.
Dozens of police and military vehicles set on fire or were damaged.
Demonstrating soldiers are furious police opened fire on them with stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Many have threatened to return with their own rifles to retaliate.
About 2 000 soldiers have been protesting over wage packages.
The South African National Defence Union [the soldiers’ union] was demanding a 30 per cent increase in pay and better working conditions. The union is not officially recognised by the government.
The trouble began when soldiers demanded to get inside the Union Buildings’ south lawn.
There was a stand-off with military police and the SA Police Services, with soldiers threatening to retaliate if the police shot at them.
Soldiers then found one of the gates to the buildings unmanned and ran inside. While they were sitting on the lawn, police started shooting at them with rubber bullets, resulting in a stampede.
In addition to injuries caused by rubber bullets, some soldiers broke their hands and feet when they jumped over the fence.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
A policeman and several soldiers were injured.
A police vehicle was set alight and a number of other cars were also damaged in violence during the daylong protest.
Defense Minister Lindiwe Sisulu condemned the violence and said the soldiers’ action was a “threat to national security.”
Police tried to disperse over 1,000 soldiers who had converged on the lawns of the Union Buildings, the seat of government, even after a court denied them permission to hold their march.
Footage from a local television station shows police firing into the crowd, forcing the protesters against a fence.
Many protesters retreated back over the fence, and police continued firing across a busy thoroughfare near many embassies and hotels.
The demonstrators responded by hurling firebombs at police vehicles.
The protest ended at about 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) when police warned that more force would be used, the South African Press Association reported.
Sisulu told reporters in Cape Town that she had instructed the head of the defense force to immediately suspend protesters.
Two soldiers had been arrested and handed over to the military police, she said.
The striking soldiers announced they would hold further protests.