Trial of soldiers who marched on the Union Buildings starts in Heidelberg

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Military law, in the case of the disgruntled soldiers who allegedly illegally marched on the Union Buildings almost four years ago, also grinds exceedingly slow, with the trial of some starting today.

“The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will continue with trial proceedings against members implicated in an illegal march on the Union Buildings today until completion at the SA Army Gymnasium in Heidelberg until completion,” director: corporate communication, Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.
“The case resumes following successful completion of pre-trial proceedings held at the same venue in May.
“All 223 members charged will appear before a military judge to face various charges in the SANDF Military Disciplinary Code,” he said.

Those in the dock all responded to an instruction from SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke to return to their home units and bases for arraignment and investigation.

The trial commencement follows preliminary investigation and drawing up of charge sheets at 121 SA Infantry Battalion, Mtubatuba Military Base in KwaZulu-Natal on February 21 after which pre-trial proceedings moved to the Gauteng training facility.

In May the SANDF indicated 297 soldiers would appear before a military court but the statement regarding commencement of trial proceedings gives no indication of what has happened to the 74 who appeared then but are not part of the current trial.

The case stems from an apparently illegal march on the Union Buildings on August 6, 2009, that turned violent. Soldiers taking part in the march were apparently protesting against conditions of service including salaries and housing. They attempted to scale the fence around the administrative seat of government. This resulted in police and metro police using water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the soldiers. A number of police vehicles were damaged during the protest.

Previous Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, placed all the marchers (at that time said to number between 900 and 1 200) on special leave. Subsequently Shoke issued an instruction revoking the special leave after a North Gauteng High Court ruling instructed C SANDF to discipline the marchers through the military justice system.

According to the SANDF there were 664 soldiers who failed to report back to home units and indications were they would be dismissed from the SANDF. Following publication of their names in mass circulation daily newspapers and broadcasting of them on regional and other radio stations a lawsuit was brought against the Defence Ministry. This North Gauteng High Court found the adverts were unlawful and unconstitutional.



At the time of the pre-trial hearings the SANDF said it would continue to exercise discipline within the organisation.
“The SANDF is committed to serve the South African people and defend the territorial integrity of the RSA. The SANDF wants to assure all South Africans the military trial will be transparent, credible and fair to all members. All those members against whom no sufficient evidence was established, will be discharged or released and they will report back to their units,” the statement concluded.