The legal services division of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been given yet another bloody nose by Sandu (SA National Defence Union) in the ongoing saga around the 2009 Union Buildings protest.
A disciplinary tribunal earlier this week ruled in favour of the military trade union, finding that the SANDF does not have the right to attempt to hold disciplinary hearings outside the military justice system.
This, Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said, was a clear pointer that, had the military justice system been applied properly at the outset, the “whole matter would long ago have been put to rest”.
“Instead the SANDF took poor legal advice and lost twice in the Supreme Court of Appeal when it, on both occasions, attempted to fire soldiers without a hearing.”
This week’s tribunal was presided over by retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and was an attempt to subject soldiers to a disciplinary hearing “similar to that found in the civilian world”.
The soldiers were accused of misconduct during a march of the Union Buildings in 2009 to make know their poor living conditions and demand a salary increase. The protest turned violent with Tshwane metro police vehicles being damaged and damaged caused to property. The violence saw more than a thousand soldiers arrested. They were later informed they faced charges of being absent without leave (AWOL), damaging property and, although never brought to any of the pre-trial courts and courts that sat in connection with the protest, charges of incitement and misconduct.
Greeff said this week’s tribunal followed long after the expiry of the three year period allowable to trial soldiers in a military court.
“Sandu objected – successfully – during the tribunal saying the SANDF had no constitutional and legal right to evade its own military court system, entrenched in law and designed to ensure swift military discipline.”
The procrastination and delays in legal hearings means more than 500 soldiers have been on so-called “special leaver” at home, with full benefits for the past six years and seven months.
“Their salary bill alone is R560 million,” Greeff said, adding the whole legal issue around the Union Building protest had become “a national embarrassment for government and the military command”.
The military trade union now wants these soldiers to be allowed to return to their bases and units as soon as is practically possible so they “can start serving South Africa again”.
He also said Sandu would not hesitate to take up cudgels on behalf of soldiers who had suffered “career stagnation” as a result of the special leave.
At the time of publication there was no publishable response from the SANDF corporate communications directorate.