Attempts to prosecute soldiers who allegedly unlawfully took part in the 2009 Union Buildings protest have to date failed and, according to the country’s largest military trade union, cost the Department of Defence in the region of half a billion Rand.
Apart from not a single soldier being found guilty on charges of absent without leave (AWOL), attending an unlawful gathering or mutiny, there are still some 950 soldiers on so-called special leave in the wake of the August 2009 protest Gauteng Afrikaans daily Beeld reported.
SA National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary, Pikkie Greeff, told the paper the soldiers still on special leave are and have been paid monthly since being told to go home soon after the protest march.
The paper reports a total of 1,300 soldiers were involved in the protest that was staged in support of salary increases and better living conditions at military bases.
Greeff maintains the Department of Defence, the SA National Defence Force and its legal services division would have been far better off had a decision been taken years ago to “swallow pride and admit there was no real case against those who protested”. All those taking part in the protest had taken leave with about 950 Sandu members the bulk of those protesting.
He is reported as saying it was now time to take a final decision on the matter “mainly because of implications for the South African taxpayer”.
Earlier this year, when charges against some of the soldiers apparently involved were withdrawn, he indicated civil actions would be brought against the Minister of Defence, the Chief of the SANDF and the Department of Defence as regards victimisation. Soldiers on special leave have not been deployed, have not been allowed to improve or further their military careers by attending courses and have suffered as a result of not being able to do their jobs he said.
Looking at an average claim of R100,000 for each of the 823 soldiers still on special leave this would mean the Department of Defence would have to find another R82 million to settle the claims, if awarded by court.