From a cleaner to a sergeant in the South African National Defence Force, and back to a cleaner. All within three months.
This is the story of Mmaluka Louisa Mgcina who turned to the North Gauteng High Court to challenge a decision to demote her, three months after she heard that she had suddenly moved up in rank. This was despite not being a member of the SANDF or having undergone a day’s military training.
It was a happy day for Mgcina when the defence force decided to promote her unexpectedly “from the rank of corporal” to that of sergeant. With her salary more than doubling, to R109 167 a year, she was delighted to accept her promotion.
But, three months later, the SANDF realised its mistake and it was back to being a cleaner for Mgcina.
Judge N V Khumalo was told that Mgcina’s “promotion” was currently subject to a criminal investigation of “fraudulent appointments in the SANDF”.
But, while she accepted that her employers had made a mistake, Mgcina told the court she could not be held responsible for their erroneous decision to have her “skipping the ranks”. She wanted to be reinstated in her position as a sergeant with backpay to May 2010.
Mgcina was a cleaner for the SANDF from 2007. In December 2009, she was told she had been promoted to a senior rank in the military health service, with a pay increase. But her joy was short-lived when she was told she could not have the job, must go back to her old job, and pay back the additional money she had earned.
The reason given was that the SANDF realised she lacked military training and professional qualifications and had not undertaken the necessary courses.
With the help of the surgeon-general she wrote a letter acknowledging that, at the time of her promotion, she was not a member of the force. She said in the letter that she did have a national senior certificate and 11 years’ “experience”, although it was not stated in what field.
She said that since her demotion, she had undergone the required basic military training course in the military health service.
The judge said the facts of the case were that she did not have any relevant military training or experience to be appointed as sergeant. This should be done from the ranks of a private in the military.
It was also common cause that one could not skip ranks, military courses and professional qualifications required for consideration to an appointment as a sergeant.
It was agreed by all parties that Mgcina’s appointment was irregular or made erroneously.
Her lawyer said she could not be blamed and that the court was obliged to allow her promotion. But, in turning down her application, the judge said legislation could not be overlooked. “The duty of the courts is to insist that the state, in all its dealings, is accountable and operates within the confines of the law.”