Legal and other actions taken by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) following the violent 2009 Union Buildings protest has by and large backfired with another judgement against it handed down this week.
The attempted dismissal of 664 soldiers by way of notices in newspapers was on Thursday declared unlawful by the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) in Bloemfontein.
The matter was taken to the highest court in the country by the SA National Defence Union (Sandu). The Pretoria headquartered military trade union can now look back on August as a good month in court having given the SANDF’s legal team a bloody nose on no less than three occasions with the SCA judgement the cherry on top.
Both other decisions in favour of the union were made by the presiding officers of the Military Court sitting at the Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg hearing cases of AWOL (absent without official leave) against soldiers who apparently took part in the Union Buildings protest.
“All told 119 soldiers have now been found innocent of AWOL on the day in question,” said Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff, adding the acquittals show the charges were “trumped up”.
Speaking after the SCA decision was handed down, Greeff said both he and the union were “elated that the attempted dismissal of 664 SANDF members by way of newspaper notices was declared unfair and unlawful”.
“Sandu also welcomes the express finding of the SCA that the SANDF’s contention that the (protesting) members constituted a risk to national security is without foundation,” he said.
The judgement handed down reads in part: “Certainly the case on behalf of the SANDF in this regard was extremely thin. It never identified the nature of the security risk that concerned it, nor was any apparent from the fact that on a single occasion, now five years ago, some soldiers disobeyed orders and behaved outrageously in order to bring to the attention of the authorities their perceived grievances”.
The soldiers concerned have been on what the SANDF termed “special leave” for a month short of five years. Calculations by Sandu indicate their salary bill during this time has been in the region of R450 million.
“They have also, with the assistance of their trade union, successfully defended two attempts at unfair dismissal costing the taxpayer an additional R6 million in legal fees and costs,” Greeff said.
With the legal side now over for more than 780 soldiers who protested in 2009 he appealed to both the Department of Defence and the SANDF to “immediately recall” them to work.
“They are eager to render service to South Africa and the country can hardly afford to effectively operate with a shortage of 664 soldiers, most of whom are infantry with specialised combat training and years of experience,” Greeff said.
At the time of publication no official comment had been issued by the SANDF.