SANDF prevented from firing unlawful marchers

2092

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been prevented from firing 600 SANDF members who illegally marched on the Union Buildings in 2009.

On Friday 7 December, the North Gauteng High Court granted a court order in favour of the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) and 600 of its members preventing the Chief of the SANDF General Solly Shoke from dismissing them.

The court order followed newspaper advertisements published in the Sowetan and Daily Sun newspapers on 14 and 15 November respectively, as well as registered letters being sent to the affected members, in which the 600 SANDF members were accused of disobeying a command and having participated in an (alleged) illegal protest march, thus allegedly posing a threat to national security, said SANDU National Secretary Pikkie Greef.

The same notices gave members ten days to convince the Chief of the SANDF why he should not dismiss them. The North Gauteng High Court on Friday found that the newspaper advertisements were unlawful and unconstitutional as was the subsequent notices sent to members. The court also ordered the Chief SANDF to pay the costs of the court action.

In August 2009, soldiers illegally marched on the Union Buildings in defiance of two military orders and a court order. They tried to climb the fence surrounding the government complex during their protest for better salaries. Police used water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the soldiers after the march turned violent.

After the incident 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 years long court battle between the SANDU and the SANDF. In July Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, decided to charge the marchers under the military court system.

The previous defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, placed the marchers on special leave before it was decided they should be tried under the military courts system. The members were ordered to report back to their units and those who responded were sent to121 South African Infantry Battalion at Mtubatuba in Kwa Zulu Natal for a preliminary investigation into the matter.

In total, 300 members decided to report back and were sent to Mtubatuba, according to Lieutenant General Vusumuzi Masondo.

In late October Shoke announced that 500 SANDF marchers who refused to report to their home units for investigation would be dismissed.
“SANDU’s…view that any alleged misconduct by a soldier is subject to
proper hearing procedures, i.e. in military courts, has been confirmed yet again by the High Court,” SANDU said in a statement yesterday. “It remains a matter of national embarrassment that the Chief SANDF has failed to learn his lesson the first time around in December 2010 when the same court halted the firing of the same members for exactly the same reason, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2012.”

SANDU said that close to 900 soldiers remain on special leave with no charges or investigation against them, while being on full pay and benefits for the past 40 months at a cost of R320 million.
“To add to Shoke’s woes the Department of Defence will also now, due to the defamatory and ill advised newspaper adverts, be facing a gigantic civil lawsuit of R90 million as combined total of damages claimed by the 600 affected members at R150 000 per member,” SANDU said. “A notice in this regard has already been forwarded to the Department of Defence. This comes on the heels of yet another R97 million lawsuit relating to similar false allegations against the samemembers some three years ago which is already awaiting trial.”