Only a handful of soldiers on trial for 2009 Union Buildings protest

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Four and a half years ago 1 200 soldiers were placed on special leave following a protest march to the Union Buildings that turned violent. Next month will see less than 20 percent of them again appear before a Military Court.

This is a continuation of the hearing halted in October following a request by the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) for access to specific information to enable it to better formulate the legal defence of its members.

SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Director: Corporate Communications Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told defenceWeb that March 18 had been set down as the recommencement date for the hearing at the Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg.

On how long this would last he indicated SANDF Legal Services planned to proceed “as a marathon trial with adjournments envisaged as and when circumstances dictate. It is thus not feasible to advise as to what the duration of the sitting will be as this will depend on varying factors”.

Only two hundred and twenty-three soldiers out of the original 1 200 placed on special leave after the Pretoria march in August 2009 will again stand in the dock on the third Tuesday in March.
1 200 soldiers were effectively suspended from the SANDF following the protest and were not allowed to perform any military duties. 297 of these soldiers on special leave responded to calls by SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke to return to their units so that pre-trial processes could be initiated.
“On completion of the preliminary investigation 72 were discharged on the basis of insufficient evidence to prosecute and two were found to have died,” Mabanga said.

Asked what has and is being done to trace soldiers who did not heed the call to return to their units, he said a process of administrative discharge had been instituted against them.
“Sandu obtained judgement in the High Court restraining the Department of Defence (DoD) from proceeding with the administrative discharge process. The DoD lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) against the High Court ruling. All court papers have been lodged and a set down for the hearing of the appeal by the SCA is awaited,” Mabanga said.

This indicates there are 1 003 soldiers still on special leave and being paid. Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said the military trade union estimated these soldiers were being paid around R6 million a month to “sit at home”.
“There are many who want to return to duty and we have reports of soldiers who have used this time valuably. I know of at least one soldier on suspended leave who has obtained a legal degree in the time he hasn’t been allowed to wear a uniform.”



Others have taken up farming, opened small businesses and “sadly, some have lost direction and taken to either alcohol or drugs,” Greeff said.