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After paying more than R265 million in salaries to idling soldiers for three years, the SANDF has retreated – deciding to abide by a Pretoria High Court judgment and charge the soldiers in a military court.
Following a two-year appeal in the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal, new Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has decided to withdraw the case a month before it was scheduled for hearing. The battle is with the SA National Defence Union over a decision to dismiss about 1 300 soldiers who illegally marched on the Union Buildings in August 2009.
The march ended up in running battles with police. Property was damaged and a number of police vehicles were set alight. When army bosses dismissed marchers, the union took them to court – beginning a lengthy battle over soldier rights and issues of national security.
Former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had taken a hardline approach and vowed to battle it out up to the Constitutional Court.
On Friday Defence Department spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said the decision was informed by legal opinion. “The opinion was that it would serve best to deal with the matter internally than to go to the court.”
The defence force would abide by the December 2010 decision, and allow soldiers a chance to defend themselves in a military court, he said. “We are charging members individually and they will be asked as individuals to explain themselves.”
Soldiers could face charges ranging from disobeying a legal order and damage to property to bringing the force into disrepute.
Union secretary Pikkie Greeff hailed the decision to withdraw the appeal court case as a sign of “leadership” from Mapisa-Nqakula. The union felt vindicated. “It is the right decision… We are happy that the new minister has shown leadership.”