SANDF provisionally sack soldiers

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More than a thousand of the soldiers who ran amok at the Union Buildings in Pretoria during an illegal wage march last week have reportedly been fired from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The Times newspaper reports that the Chief of the SANDF, General Godfrey Nhlanhla, Ngwenya had confirmed to it that 1100 soldiers had received dismissal letters.
But the SA Press Association, quoting a SA National Defence Force Union (SANDU) spokesman, quoted a lesser figure of 460.
“We can confirm that some soldiers have received letters to terminate their services,” SANDU legal adviser Michael Thekiso told the national press agency.
“They have 10 days to motivate to the minister on why they should not be dismissed. It is only final after 10 days.”
    
No-one at the Ministry of Defence or the SANDF`s chief directorate of corporate communications could be reached this morning with phone calls going unanswered.   
Thekiso adds that the said soldiers have to provide proof of where they were on the day of the protest. “It’s a mockery. Giving reasons as to why they [should not] be dismissed is a despicable action. We may just need to approach the High Court on this matter.”
The SANDF is specifically excluded from the operation of the Labour Relations Act, but the 1999 Constitutional Court judgment that recognised the right of military personnel to join unions also expressly ruled that soldiers had the same labour rights as any other South African.
Labour law allows for summary dismissal in the case of gross misconduct but requires the employer to prove the offence on a balance of probability. It is unusual to expect employees to prove their innocence.    
      
The Times reports that the soldiers have vowed to embark on “furious” and violent marches to protest against their axing.
The letters ordered those affected to leave military terrain at once. 
The paper adds the letters did little to deter their unruly behaviour and their representatives immediately threatened that a violent national strike was on the cards.
SANDU national coordinator Charlton Boere said future protests will not be peaceful. “Last Wednesday was the first and the last time police shoot at us. This is a warning to the [police] to never do this again. Soldiers were professionally trained, but they can`t be pushed to the edge.
‘‘Last Wednesday they were pushed to the edge and the union cannot be held responsible for what the soldiers might do.”
“We` d like our commander-in- chief, [President] Jacob Zuma to get involved in this dispute because it is a national crisis and it must be solved before it gets out of hand,” he said.
Boere said the union also told its members to report for duty today because it deemed the dismissals illegal.
“According to our code of conduct, if a soldier receives an illegal order or instruction, he has every right to disobey it.
“For an employee to be dismissed, he or she must be warned, then charged, then investigated and charged before appearing before a military tribunal.
“That procedure was not followed and we are taking this matter to the High Court,” Boere said.
The rioting soldiers disobeyed a court order and marched to the Union Buildings last Wednesday to protest perceived pay disparities.
During a day marked by violence outside the seat of government, the protesting troops vandalised vehicles and clashed with police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas at them. Several soldiers and a policeman were injured and two soldiers were arrested and charged with public violence and malicious damage to property.

Pic: SANDF soldiers pictured in a field exercise, 2008.