War of words – with no SANDF input – rages around trainee soldiers’ assault

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Responses ranging from measured to hysterical are flying around a thuggish assault on SA National Defence Force (SANDF) military skills development (MSD) recruits by police assigned to presidential protection duties.

On one side is the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) calling for relevant information to “ascertain the full picture” of what transpired on the N1 highway in the Bryanston/Fourways area over the first weekend in July.

A different approach comes from the Action Society, a four-year-old civil rights organisation. In the wake of reports indicating the soldiers in training were told not to speak to media about the assault – what the Society called “a shocking turn” – it said it would assist one if those alleged injured in the apparently unprovoked attack to bring civil and criminal charges.

There has – to now – been no official word on the incident from the SANDF mouthpiece – its Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC). Apart from apparently banning the MSDs speaking to media, it was reported this could happen “if a general was present”. There is only one general in the SANDF – Rudzani Maphwanya – the Chief, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, also SANDF Commander-in-Chief. DCC is headed by a brigadier-general – Andries Mahapa. He holds the lowest general officer rank with major- and lieutenant-generals above him before the most senior officer in the force – the lone four-star Maphwanya.

Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said the union is “is actively engaging the SANDF on this matter to gather all relevant information and ascertain the full picture”.

“As an organisation, we do not hastily jump to conclusions or engage in PR campaigns. Our primary focus is always the wellbeing and safety of our members. We are committed to ensuring the rights and interests of members are protected and any allegations impacting their wellbeing are taken seriously.

“We will continue discussions with the SANDF to understand the circumstances surrounding the alleged instructions [not being allowed to engage media]. Once we have gathered all the necessary information and have a comprehensive understanding of the situation, Sandu will provide a further update,” a statement has him saying.

Action Society legal representative Daniël Eloff challenged what is termed an “attempt to curtail victims’ right to freedom of expression”. As per an Action Society statement he is on record saying, “In terms of South African law and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the SANDF has no jurisdiction to inhibit victims or any individual from expressing their views or recounting their experiences outside of work hours and off military premises”.

“More importantly, one would expect the upper echelons of the defence force to stand by its members, supporting them in their time of need rather than aiding in the protection of the alleged assailants from the SAPS VIP unit. The truth must be brought to light and the victims have every right to bring their personal experiences into public view.”