Cabinet has, in an oblique reference in a statement released after its usual two-weekly meeting, endorsed the Department of Defence’s decision to appeal a decision of the North Gauteng High Court that notices of dismissal served on members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) following a rampage at the Union Buildings in August last year were unlawful and unconstitutional.
The paragraph in the statement does not mention the decision at all, saying instead “Cabinet decided to lodge an appeal against the state in the matter between the South African Defence Union [sic] and The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans.”
The statement says “Cabinet is of the view that the court decision could have a negative effect on the discipline [sic] in the defence force. The Constitutional provision requires that the defence force must be structured and managed as a disciplined force [sic].
The DoD last Thursday said it intended to appeal the court ruling, citing concerns that it may affect the management and discipline of the Defence Force, which would have a negative impact on national security. The department said discipline in the military was non-negotiable and was the sole responsibility of the Chief of the SANDF. It also said at the time that ill-disciplined soldiers had no place in the SANDF.
The 1333 SA Army soldiers, 80 SA Military Health Service medics and seven SA Air Force airmen the DoD is seeking to dismiss took part in a service condition protest on August 26, SANDU’s 15th birthday. The South African National Defence Union (SANDU) and its rival the South African Security Forces Union (SASFU) have long endured fraught relations with the military. Efforts by the military and DoD to filibuster the unions led to a series of court cases in the last decade, culminating in a Constitutional Court judgement in May 1999 in which the the court, by mouth of Justice Kate O`Regan, confirmed an earlier judgment by Pretoria High Court Judge Willie Hartzenberg that soldiers had the same labour rights – including due process – as other South Africans.
Business Day reports meanwhile that SANDU has a membership of 17 000 and SASFU 15 000. The DoD disputes this.