The Pretoria High Court has ordered the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to reinstate 35 soldiers who were dismissed for allegedly deserting whilst studying medicine in Cuba.
In a judgement on 18 July, Judge Annali Christelle Basson stated that the SANDF’s decision to terminate the employment of the 35 SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) members’ service with the SANDF “is unlawful and invalid” and “is reviewed and set aside.”
She ordered that the 35 members are reinstated within seven days from the date of the order with full retrospective effect, with retention of all salaries and benefits as from the date of the unlawful termination of their service.
“The respondents, jointly and severally the one paying the other to be absolved, are ordered to pay the costs of this application.”
The 35 SAMHS members were part of a group of 76 studying medicine in Cuba and, according to the SANDF, were “administratively discharged” for being absent without official leave (AWOL). This was apparently because they did not attend classes at “what was little more than a Cuban Defence Force infantry battalion” according to Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff.
The medics in training were moved to the infantry facility after a semester at a medical training facility. This was because they were not registered as medical students, apparently a South African requirement in terms of the Health Professions Act. Additionally, the Cuban institution they were initially enrolled at was not an accredited medical teaching facility.
“Defence force management and powers-that-be in Cuba could not explain this, nor provide a solution or address their concerns. In the end it boils down to requiring someone studying medicine in unlawful circumstances clearly in breach of employment contracts,” Greeff said earlier this year.
Sandu then went the legal route to get the 35 members reinstated. “We vowed to help and so we did,” Greeff said after the judgement last week.