Another 38 soldiers charged with being AWOL on August 26 five years ago – the day of the unruly Union Building protest – have been acquitted by the Military Court.
“This acquittal follows two other similar cases earlier this year by the same court,” SA National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary Pikkie Greeff said.
“A total of 119 soldiers have now been shown innocent of the charge of being absent without official leave on the day in question. The acquittals clearly show the charges were trumped up and that the Department of Defence misled the South African public claiming, at the time, the soldiers had ‘abandoned’ their bases unlawfully.”
In March SA National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told defenceWeb 223 soldiers would face AWOL and public violence charges in the Military Court sitting at the Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg. A further 32 soldiers would apparently be charged with disobeying a lawful order.
Greeff said the issue of charging soldiers who had apparently been illegally off base to take part in the march had become “a charade”.
While the AWOL charges have disappeared the SANDF now faces further embarrassment according to him.
“We are going to refer all acquittals to the Sandu attorneys who are already in the process of embarking on lawsuits on behalf of every acquitted soldier who is a Sandu member. The combined value of the lawsuits against the SANDF will be in excess of R11 million,” he said.
The SANDF has been paying R6 million a month in salaries to soldiers put on special leave after the August 2009 march on the seat of government in Pretoria. The aftermath has been a series of hearings, court cases as well as postponements for High Court hearings but the legal side of the SANDF is, again according to Mabanga, taking it seriously.
“SANDF Legal Services has planned to proceed as a marathon trial with adjournments envisaged as and when circumstances dictate,” he said in March.