Soldiers to remain on special leave
Johannesburg - About 1 000 SANDF soldiers who allegedly participated in an illegal march to the Union Buildings last year will remain on special leave until the defence department's possible dismissal procedures against them have been finalised.
In the meantime the department would appeal judgment handed down by the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday on the ruling against it, spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said on Thursday.
"It is our view that another court will come to a different conclusion," he said.
"The department considers this matter in the most serious light as it may affect the management and discipline in the Defence Force which will have a negative impact on national security."
He said ill-disciplined soldiers had no place in the SANDF and the failure to act firmly may itself be a breach of the constitutional provision requiring that the "defence force must be structured and managed as a disciplined military force".
A group of soldiers in August last year defied a court order not to march to the Union Buildings over a salary dispute. When they arrived at the buildings, which house the president's and executive's offices, people were seen scaling the fences and a police vehicle was set alight.
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu promised stern action and sent provisional termination notices to around 1 000 soldiers.
Judge Cynthia Pretorius on Wednesday granted an order to the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) declaring the procedure adopted by the defence force, in terms of which the soldiers were issued with the notices, unlawful and unconstitutional.
She interdicted the SANDF from discharging Sandu members, pending the finalisation of a dispute to be referred to the Military Bargaining Council.
Should the matter not be resolved there, the dispute must be referred to the Military Arbitration Board.
Pretorius found the notice issued to the soldiers constituted a decision to terminate their employment, albeit provisionally.
However, Dlamini said the department wanted the judge to clarify certain aspects of her judgment, because they believed the council and board dealt with bargaining issues and not discipline.
They also found it inappropriate that the affected soldiers turned to a civilian court first, instead of a board of inquiry, for example.
"The court may deem the notices deficient or may find procedural infirmities in the manner we dealt with the soldiers slated for dismissal, but we are resolute.
"We shall correct the procedural infirmities and move with expedition towards the finalisation of the process which may lead to dismissal of these men and women," an earlier statement from Dlamini read.
He said this was important for discipline within the force.
But in the meantime, while the department decided whether to appeal the matter, the affected soldiers would "stay put" and receive their pay.
The SA Special Force's Union (Sasfu) welcomed Wednesday's judgment. It hoped the court had sent the message that "soldiers' rights are workers' rights and workers' rights are human rights".
The union hope to work with the defence minister to "rebuild" the force's damaged image.
"We do this because we love our country and we will do everything within our power to defeat the new tendency," Sasfu president Bhekinkosi Mvovo said.
The SA National Defence Union on Thursday that it was "extremely disturbing" that some of its members were still on special leave.
Members were issued with copies of an internal management circular which suggested that they were on suspension for participation in illegal strike action, Sandu's national secretary Pikkie Greef said in a statement.
Some members were allowed into their bases, but told not to start work, some were allowed to commence their duties, while others were still waiting outside their bases as their commanders had informed them that they were still awaiting instructions from higher headquarters.
"This chaotic situation leads one to no other conclusion than gaining the impression that large scale confusion and crippled communication exists within the command structure in dealing with the results of the judgement," Greef said.
"It also clearly illustrates a banana republic mentality which purports to subject the rule of law and legal requirements to the military authority."