Accused soldiers in limbo over military court standstill

2016-04-18 19:00
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Cape Town - A group of soldiers who faced charges of violating curfew while in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plan to take the Department of Defence and Military Veterans to court for being dismissed, allegedly without a hearing in a military court, their union said on Monday.

SA National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary Pikkie Greeff, said 32 soldiers were dismissed without a hearing, because the military court has come to a standstill over security clearances for judges.

This came to light after a parliamentary reply to a written question by DA MP Sarel Marais on how many soldiers had been charged with transgressions while serving in the DRC.

According to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, 90 soldiers in South Africa's peace keeping force were charged with transgressions for 2015/16.

Eight were fined R600 at a disciplinary hearing by their commanding officers. Of the remaining 82, 46 were discharged in terms of the Defence Act and 36 could not be tried because of the non assignment of military judges.

The ministry said that 32 of the 46 were appealing their dismissal in a high court. It believed fair procedure was followed.

But Greeff said hardly any cases had been heard since last year because the judges' top secret clearance, which has to be done every year, had not been completed.

Because there were no judges, the soldiers' cases were not heard and in the case of the 32, they were allegedly just given a letter telling them they had been dismissed.

Sandu believes the soldiers should have been given an opportunity to state their case, but that without the judges this was not possible.

They intended challenging this process in the Pretoria High Court when their lawyers have finished preparing legal papers, said Greeff.

Comment from the SANDF was not immediately available but Sandu has been lobbying the Department of Defence to rectify the situation at the military courts.

Marais said he asked the question to establish whether complaints that South African troops were ill disciplined when on a mission had any validity but there was no way of gauging this if the military's judicial system was not working.

Details on the other alleged transgressions were not immediately available.

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