Hearings in the Military Court sitting at the Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg this week resulted in what can only be termed yet another victory for the military trade union, Sandu (SA National Defence Union).
This week’s hearing was the fourth to take place at the south Gauteng military facility and saw absent without official leave (AWOL) charges against 35 soldiers withdrawn. By August 2014, a total of 119 soldiers had been shown innocent of the charge of being absent without official leave on the day of the Union Buildings protest march.
Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said it was a further vindication of the union’s decision to take up legal cudgels on behalf of its members.
“Not a single Sandu member who was charged with either being AWOL, or for public violence or mutiny following the 2009 protest march on the Union Buildings has been found guilty,” he said adding the union would now take matters further via civil claims.
“There are 220 Sandu members who the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) charged. They could not be deployed, could not be considered for selection for courses or advance their military careers in any way while legal proceedings dragged on and on. This is now finished, they have been found not guilty and Sandu will be instituting civil claims on their behalf. We are looking at compensation in the region of R100 000 for each of our members,” he told defenceWeb. All told that totals over R2 million which, if the court finds in favour of the soldiers, will have to come from taxpayers’ money.
The civil claims will not be the end of legal matters in connection with the Union Buildings march. Greeff said there are a further 566 Sandu members still on so-called “special leave” for their participation in the protest without apparent official leave. “They are being paid by the defence force and to date have not been informed of any charges, whether it be AWOL, mutiny or public violence, against them,” he said.
“Dismissal of charges against 220 leads me to believe there is no chance of any successful prosecution against those still on special leave, even if charges are brought. The military prosecution service has tried and been unsuccessful. Surely it’s time to admit there is no case to be brought against the 566 and it’s time to let them go back to work, which is after all, what they want to do.”
Around 1 000 soldiers turned up at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in August 2009 to display their unhappiness with conditions of service including accommodation and salaries. The protest turned violent with damage done to Tshwane metro police vehicles and property in Church Street, below the Union Buildings.