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AWOL charges withdrawn against 58 Union Buildings protestors

AWOL charges dropped for Union Buildings protestorsThe SA National Defence Union (Sandu) has expressed its “extreme delight” following the withdrawal of absent without official leave (AWOL) charges against 58 soldiers who took part in the August 2009 protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

The protest saw more than 1 000 soldiers turn up at the seat of government to display their unhappiness with conditions of service including accommodation and salaries. It turned violent with damage done to Tshwane metro police vehicles and property in Church Street, below the Union Buildings.

“Justice has, at long last, been served,” Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said.

“The evidence presented by the State in this trial (at a Military Court sitting Heidelberg, Gauteng) was so weak that the court found it insufficient to even constitute a prima facie case against the soldiers. This was after the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) own documentation proved the soldiers were all granted leave of absence on the day in question.”

Greeff added the court’s decision “belied public claims, made all along by the SANDF” that the soldiers deserted their bases and “endangered their own country”.

Noting this was the first of three AWOL cases arising from the Union Buildings protest, Greeff pointed out evidence in the next two was “even weaker”.

He is of the opinion the SANDF remains intent on “subjecting innocent soldiers to criminal prosecution on what can only be described as trumped-up charges, designed to save political face for government in the light of its disgusting neglect of our armed forces”.

Sandu calculations show the trial, which it says is a “futile witch hunt”, has cost more than R18 million in salaries and legal costs.

“All 58 have pending defamation claims against the SANDF totalling R5.8 million and they will now proceed to sue the SANDF for malicious prosecution in claims totalling another R5.8 million,” Greeff said.