The South African National Defence Union (SANDU) today welcomed the announcement by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans that she will charge the 1 300 soldiers that marched on the Union Buildings in 2009 under the military court system, after withdrawing the case from the Supreme Court of Appeal.
SANDU secretary J G Greeff commended Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula “on displaying quality leadership which up to now has been lacking in the Department of Defence.”
“It has always been SANDU’s position which we still maintain, that soldiers, as any other worker, have the right to due process of law, fair hearing and fair labour practices. It is however unfortunate that the decisions of the previous Minister, Sisulu, in insisting that soldiers be dismissed without hearing, were in conflict with sound labour practices and the Constitution of South Africa,” SANDU said in a statement today.
“The result of Sisulu’s obstinate insistence has been that up to now thousands of soldiers have awaited their fates at home with full pay for 3 years costing the country in excess of R300 million and legal fees which by now already amounts to R3 million,” SANDU said. “In addition the members forced to remain home have been disadvantaged financially and career wise to the extent that they missed out on benefits and career progression opportunities due to their absence from service which also amounts to millions of rands and which SANDU intends recovering.”
SANDU expressed the hope that the current Minister’s decision on this issue is the first step in resolving the chaos of several other burning labour issues within the SANDF which was created by her predecessor. “The obvious step towards resolving such issues would be for the current Minister in her demonstrated wise leadership to sit down with SANDU and engage on all issues affecting the service conditions and benefits of soldiers.”
“Once again the importance of unionism within the SANDF has been vindicated in that thousands of SANDF members would have fallen victim to the unscrupulous actions of Sisulu and lost their jobs had it not been for the fact that they had the collective power of a union behind them to ensure that their Constitutional rights are protected and respected,” the union concluded.
On August 19, 2009, soldiers in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) illegally marched on the Union Buildings in defiance of two military orders and a court order. Soldiers tried to climb the fence surrounding the government complex during their protest to demand better salaries. Police used water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the soldiers after the march turned violent.
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 years long court battle between the South African National Defence Union (SANDU) and the SANDF. SANDU took the matter to the High Court and challenged the manner in which the Department attempted to terminate the soldiers’ employment. The High Court ruled in favour of SANDU based on the fact that the procedure adopted in dismissing the soldiers was not fair.
A decision was taken by the Department to appeal the matter straight to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) since leave to appeal was not granted in the High Court. The matter is to be heard in the SCA on August 20 this year.
On July 25 this year, the Supreme Court of Appeal addressed correspondence to the Department of Defence to enquire as to whether the Department wanted to proceed with the matter or not.
Mapisa-Nqakula, after receiving legal advice, and in consultation with the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, decided to withdraw the case from the SCA and to charge the soldiers under the military court system, the Department of Defence announced yesterday.