Another delay in Union Buildings protest trial

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More than 600 renegade SA National Defence Force soldiers face the boot.

The 655 soldiers are part of a group of 1 000 who staged a protest that turned violent outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 2009, the Sowetan reports.

The soldiers, marching under the auspices of the SA National Defence Union (Sandu), were demanding pay increases of up to 30%.

However, the SANDF declared the August 26, 2009, march illegal and in defiance of military and court orders.

Then Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu declared the protest “a serious and immediate threat to national security”.

Violence broke out during the march when police fired rubber bullets at the soldiers, who tried to climb over a fence surrounding the Union Buildings complex.

This was after their application to march was turned down by the courts.

Those who participated in the march were charged with disobeying the SANDF’s Military Disciplinary Supplementary Measures Act.

On Monday SANDF spokesman Brigadier Xolani Mabanga told the Sowetan the soldiers would be fired as soon as the military trade union stopped trying to stall the disciplinary process against them.

More than 100 of the soldiers allegedly involved in the protest are expected to appear before the Military Court sitting at the Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg.

Mabanga said the resumption of proceedings followed the postponement by the Military Court last November, due to an urgent High Court interdict following arguments by defence lawyers.
“They have proved that they cannot be trusted. So SANDF is in the process of dismissing them,” said Mabanga.

However, Sandu national secretary advocate Pikkie Greeff said on Monday the union had obtained a High Court order halting the trial. According to him the court ordered that the state should provide a charge sheet with more information.

He said the state would also have to charge the accused separately.
“This is what we have been asking for from the Military Court all along. But now it has been granted to us by a judge of the High Court,” he said adding that the 655 had been sitting at home and receiving salaries for doing nothing for the past five years.

Greeff said on average the salaries of the soldiers cost the SANDF R6 million a month. Some of the soldiers had already reported for work.

Mabanga said Greeff was to blame for the soldiers’ failure to report for duty.
“He is the one who advised them to sit at home. So why must he worry if they are getting paid?” said Mabanga.

Mabanga confirmed that the trial would no longer resume on Tuesday.

However, he said they had reached an agreement with Sandu that the military justice system would conduct the trial and not the high court.

Mabanga said they would wait for the military court to issue a trial date sometime this week.

He refused to comment on the court order, saying: “I cannot comment on the merits of the case.”

Greeff said the allegation of mass mutiny against soldiers represented the most important military trial post-1994.

He said the union had already warned the SANDF that failure to provide a speedy trial for the implicated members would be challenged in a court of law.



This, said Greeff, could lead to an order directing the SANDF to either announce and start the military trial or withdraw all charges and recall the soldiers to duty.