SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members have made defamation claims amounting to R98.5 million against Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, their union says.
“No person in his right mind will accept the fact that he or she is called a criminal by the state without substance or proof,” said SA National Defence Union (SANDU) national secretary Pikkie Greeff. Almost 1000 SANDF members were suspended in August 2009 after a protest march turned violent at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the South Africa Press Association reports.
The soldiers are now claiming R80 000 each for defamation and R20 000 each for loss of income. So far, 645 claims for R100 000 each had been sent to the ministry. In total 985 summonses would be delivered before the end of November, Greeff said.
Defence ministry spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya called the claims a “gimmick” that wasted time.
“How do you receive a (suspension) letter in an envelope and claim it is defamatory? They say they are being defamed. By who?”
In August 2009, 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 two-year long court battle between the union and the SANDF. Since 2009, the notices have twice been found unlawful by the Pretoria High Court. The case is continuing in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, SAPA adds.
According to Greeff, Sisulu’s lawyers were meant to file the record of proceedings from the high court at the Supreme Court of Appeal by the end of October, but had asked for a two-month extension. The extension was granted and the record was due to be filed in December.
Mabaya said the SANDF would take the matter to the Constitutional Court if it had to. The SANDF was also preparing a R12 million claim against Sandu for damages at the union buildings. Mabaya said the SANDF would also sue union organiser Jeff Dubazana for defamatory comments made against Sisulu during an interview on Talk Radio 702. Dubazana phoned in to the radio station during a live interview with Sisulu in April and called her a liar.
Greeff called the damage to property charges “claptrap”. “There is no such claim and I can confidently tell you the only damage the SANDF suffered was the military police vehicle which was set alight by persons hitherto unknown and unidentified.” He said the Sunnyside police confirmed video footage of the arsonists was sent to the SANDF more than a year ago, with a request that they identify the offenders. “No reaction from them up to now. How can the department manage to identify 1000 people at a march using video footage in order to suspend them, but they can’t identify certain individuals setting a vehicle alight?”
If it was up to the SANDF, the suspended soldiers would be dismissed at once, Mabaya said. “We are not in a hurry to have them back.” The SANDF intended to remove the union. “The presence of SADU has not helped us to move the defence force forward,” Mabaya said. Greef disagreed and said South Africans should be very worried if the SANDF was attempting to nullify a Constitutional Court finding that soldiers may join unions. Greef said the “whole fiasco” could have been prevented if the soldiers were charged in a court.
The soldiers’ defamation claims would provide the state with an opportunity to produce evidence, Greeff said. “This is what they have tried to circumvent with their unlawful process so far, because the day evidence to back up their allegations will be required is the day the state’s whole case will blow up in the minister’s face,” he said.