SA National Defence Force soldiers. File photo: Leon Muller

Pretoria - The SANDF has been ordered to pay R80 000 in damages to the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) after bad-mouthing it in two publications.

Sandu turned to the Pretoria High Court, claiming a total of R500 000, after an article published under the headline “Greatest lies ever told by a military trade union” in the SANDF in-house publication The Bulletin in October 2007.

The article claimed the union spread disinformation about salary negotiations to soldiers.

It stated that the union was making illegal deductions from the salaries of soldiers to cover its fees.

According to the article, the union claimed to have reached agreement with the Military Bargaining Council for a 19 percent pay increase, while the SANDF had awarded only 7.5 percent.

Sandu was accused of spreading disinformation to soldiers based on a “counterfeit agreement”.

Acting Judge MR Chetty said it was common cause that the relationship between SANDF and the union had been strained over many years.

Much of the tension arose from the military’s efforts to operate in a disciplined manner and the right of the trade union to pursue issues on behalf of soldiers.

Pikkie Greeff, Sandu’s national secretary, said the union did propose a 19 percent increase, as demanded by its members, but made it clear no such agreement had been reached.

The union had not told members such an agreement was in place, and this false claim had been made to portray the union in a bad light.

He also objected to an administration order issued a few days after the publication, in which the defamatory statements about the union were repeated.

In defending the claim, Colonel Phillip Dhlamini claimed the statements were true.

He claimed Sandu was spreading the “counterfeit agreement”, as some angry soldiers had confronted him about why they had not received a 19 percent increase. He said he was afraid these soldiers would become “mutinous” and “blood would flow”.

Judge Chetty found that the information published was not true and agreed that the articles implied that the union was spreading lies and that this would affect new members wanting to join the union.

The judge added that when the angry soldiers confronted Dhlamini, he should have set the record straight.

“The evidence of the witnesses suggests that the arena in which labour and management engage with each other is fraught with tension and distrust,” he added.

Pretoria News