Trials and tribulations at Defence Legal Services Division


Instead of concentrating on either prosecuting or defending military offenders or suspects, a number of senior military legal officers are seeking legal redress from two top people in the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV).

According to Johannesburg digital weekly Mail & Guardian the cases – at least six – stem from “personal clashes”.

These “led to a string of court actions” separately against Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), General Solly Shoke.

The legal officers bringing the actions have an average of 20 years’ service, the publication reported, adding losing “any of them and a string of juniors could see an increase in the backlog of military court matters”.

According to the Department of Defence (DoD) 2018/19 annual report over 2 000 new military court cases were registered that year with a backlog of more than 1 600.

Cases include internal disciplinary offences such as theft, absence without official leave (AWOL) and misuse of military property. It also includes crimes committed outside South Africa while on peacekeeping deployment, rape and sexual harassment by fellow soldiers.

Lieutenant General Eric Mnisi, adjutant-general in charge of the legal division, is named in most complaints by the legal officers as his subordinates either battle to retain their posts or reverse dismissals.

Written complaints to Mapisa-Nqakula’s office have, to date, brought no relief for their frustrations.

Some aggrieved military lawyers say they are among the highest paid personnel in the SANDF. Pay increases were implemented as a retention strategy because of an exodus of experienced military legal officers.

“Since Mnisi’s  appointment in 2016, not even the generous salaries stemmed the tide of resignations and life for many who remain is unbearable,” some said.

“The latest papers were filed in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in December, but have not yet been heard. The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) is handling one case in which navy Commander Eddie Mokoena, based at the legal satellite office in Port Elizabeth, is fighting his termination at the end of December.

“Mokoena’s case dates back to 2019 when he applied to resign from the SANDF. He never received Shoke’s approval on his initial application. When he inquired, his seniors told him his resignation could not be recommended because there was an internal investigation underway against him. The investigation concerned Mokoena’s sick leave and a request for study and vacation leave. At the time of his application to resign, he had no disciplinary charges against him.

“According to his court documents, he was subsequently informed he would be charged with fraud when booked off sick by a psychiatrist. The military judge who heard the case determined the court had no jurisdiction to charge him. But the legal department continued an inquiry into his alleged offences. This board found him guilty of being AWOL.

“Mokoena withdrew his resignation and continued work until he received a notification from Mnisi a year later his resignation was approved even though it was withdrawn a year earlier.

“Mokoena’s service and salary were ended in December. He now applied to the court, arguing the SANDF acted unlawfully when terminating his employment.

“In reply to the M&G’s questions the SANDF said it could not comment on cases pending before a military or civilian court but stated the inquiry’s guilty verdict against Mokoena is a dismissible offence.

“According to some of Mokoena’s colleagues, it is the norm to make life as unbearable as possible for officers who disagree with Mnisi.

“Five other cases have been filed in civilian courts,” the M&G reported.