High Court gags soldiers

2009-09-01 22:18

Johannesburg - An interdict to stop soldiers from embarking on illegal marches and to prevent them from making "irresponsible remarks" was issued by the High Court in Pretoria late on Tuesday evening.

"It is clear both unions are condoning activities that seem to border on disrespect for authority and disobeying orders... and that is a dismissable offence," said ministry of defence and military veterans spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya.

The interdict was granted to the defence minister, the secretary of defence and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) against members of the South African National Defence Union (Sandu) and South African Security Forces Unions' (Sasfu).

The department earlier said the SANDF was issuing up to 2 000 letters of dismissal to soldiers believed to have taken part in last week's protest at the Union Buildings which ended in chaos.

Union mobilising soldiers

It sought a legal remedy after the unions had reacted to the dismissals by allegedly encouraging their members not to accept the dismissal letters.

"We have been watching the comments made by Sandu... telling their members not to accept the disciplinary letters... a soldier who does not accept it is in disobeying a lawful order," Mabaya said.

"Most importantly in the barracks we are receiving information that Sandu is mobilising soldiers to disobey orders from commanders... and we received information that they are mobilising soldiers to protest again. We needed to stop that."

He added that it was a means of protecting soldiers themselves from losing their jobs.

"We thought it's very important to do that, if we don't, it puts a lot of soldiers at risk of losing their work... it is also in a sense protecting the soldiers from the irresponsible acts of Sandu."

10 days to respond

Mabaya said it was the largest number of soldiers the SANDF had intended firing at once. They had 10 days to respond to the letters of dismissal.

He rejected suggestions by defence unions that this process was unsound and that a military or magistrate's court was more appropriate.

"We are determined that this is the process," said Mabaya, in response to Sandu's and Sasfu's contention that it did not start from the point of a presumption of innocence.

Mabaya said the ministry had already proved that they were guilty.

"They stay in barracks, so we know who was in and who was out. We have a list of people who were not at work."

He said soldiers who may have come down with an illness on the day, or who had taken leave, would have been picked up through controls and in this way it was possible to work out who had participated.

Union wants to meet Sisulu

The dismissal letter asks for details of where the recipient was on August 26 - the day of the incident, said Pikkie Greeff, national secretary of Sandu, which intends applying for a court interdict to have the letters withdrawn.

Sasfu said it was urgently trying to secure a meeting with the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu to have the letters withdrawn and would also turn to the courts if this failed.

Deputy secretary general of the union Vincent Sibiya agreed with Sandu's stance, saying the letters were not covered by any policy in the army.

Meanwhile, the SA Council of Churches has arranged a meeting with Sisulu in Cape Town at 10:00 on Wednesday to help resolve the issue, following a meeting with Sandu earlier on Tuesday. Sasfu was invited but was unable to attend.