The 500 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members who illegally marched to the Union Buildings in 2009 and who refused to report to their home units for investigation will be dismissed, according to the Chief of the South African Army.
The previous defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, placed the marchers on special leave before it was decided they should be tried under the military courts system. The members were ordered to report back to their units and those who responded were sent to121 South African Infantry Battalion at Mtubatuba in Kwa Zulu Natal for a preliminary investigation into the matter.
In total, 300 members decided to report back and are at Mtubatuba facing disciplinary action, according to Lieutenant General Vusumuzi Masondo. One the investigation is either completed or postponed, the soldiers will return to duty.
Those who ignored the Chief of the SANDF’s order to report back to their units will be administratively discharged, Masondo said. This amounts to 500 soldiers. Masondo noted that the “unfortunate incident” of the Union Building demonstration “cast doubt on our ability to defend ourselves.”
He added that disciplinary action would also be taken against those who invited former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema to address them in September.
In August 2009, soldiers illegally marched on the Union Buildings in defiance of two military orders and a court order. They tried to climb the fence surrounding the government complex during their protest to demand better salaries. Police used water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the soldiers after the march turned violent.
After the incident the soldiers each received a notice informing them of their “provisional dismissal”. They were accused of attending an illegal march, failing to obey orders, failing to dissociate themselves from violent protest, mutiny and of scandalising the SANDF. They were informed that their continued employment would constitute a security risk. The notice called on members to prove, within 10 days, why they should not be permanently dismissed. The notice and consequent paid suspension of the soldiers led to a years long court battle between the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) and the SANDF. In July Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, decided to charge the marchers under the military court system.