SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke, has decided enough is enough as regards the aftermath of the 2009 march on the Union Buildings.
“The defence force is uncomfortable with continuing to pay members who are simply sitting at their homes,” he told a hastily convened media briefing in Pretoria.
“The Military Command, acting on legal advice, has decided the members on special leave must be recalled. This will be done according to terms and conditions provided for in the Defence Act and other applicable policy documents,” he said at GCIS head office where a video link had been provided to Cape Town to ensure wider coverage of the briefing.
Shoke’s statement gives no indication of the number of soldiers placed on special leave following the march that turned violent with damage done to military and municipal police vehicles as well as property in the vicinity of the Union Buildings.
Responding to questions he said there were 507 soldiers still on special leave. He was not prepared to provide details of the costs involved from either a salary point, the loss of productivity to the SANDF and the actual legal costs.
Asked what would happen if those still on special leave did not react to the “instruction to report at a particular venue at a specific time” he said “one must remember in the military one plus one does not always equal two”.
He would also not be drawn on whether soldiers who responded to the latest instruction could face disciplinary action saying only that the “instruction” would not necessarily see soldiers reporting to their units or bases.
He did not give any indication when the “instruction” would be issued.
Estimates by the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) are that it has cost the SANDF around R600 million in salaries for the special leave soldiers. The union, via its national secretary Pikkie Greeff, said there were 561 soldiers put on special leave following the march. They are ones who, to date, have not made representations and are again serving as well as soldiers who heeded an “instruction” by Shoke in 2012 to return to their units and bases for military disciplinary process to take place.
“These members were subjected to military discipline. The process has been concluded and they have resumed their duties,” he said declining to give details of how many had done this.
Greeff said Shoke had undertaken “a massive climb-down by recalling the so-called special leave members”.
“The fact is that the SANDF had for 80 months perpetuated an unlawful and malicious campaign attempting to fire the soldiers who took part in the protest. The SANDF lost twice in the Supreme Court of Appeal. In sheer desperation, the SANDF refused to trial these soldiers in a military court, as is the right of every soldier.”
A last ditch attempt to solve the impasse saw a tribunal appointed and it last month ruled against the suspended soldiers’ cases being heard in a civilian court.
Shoke told the briefing that while the SANDF respected the division of the courts between civilian and military he would ask for investigations into clarity of the jurisdiction between the two.