A group of 36 medical students turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, last year ruled that the SANDF was within its rights to fire them for going awol in Cuba. Picture: File
A group of 36 medical students turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, last year ruled that the SANDF was within its rights to fire them for going awol in Cuba. Picture: File

SANDF soldiers who went awol in Cuba lose bid to be reinstated

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Jan 7, 2022

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Pretoria - Soldiers who went awol while on a medical course in Cuba in 2017 have once again lost their legal bid to be reinstated after the SANDF gave them the boot.

The group of 36 medical students turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, last year ruled that the SANDF was within its rights to fire them.

The court initially found in favour of the soldiers and ordered their reinstatement. This order was, however, overturned by three judges of the high court on appeal.

Unhappy with this verdict, the group turned to the SCA, which yesterday turned down their application.

The SCA judges commented that “the SANDF simply cannot function properly when its members absent themselves from duty without permission, contrary to the job they agreed to do”.

Their defence in absconding was that they could not face the conditions at the university in Cuba.

They were part of a group of the SA Military Health Services given an opportunity to study medicine at the University of Cuba in 2017.

Each of them concluded an agreement with the SANDF to study abroad and they undertook to study medicine in Cuba for the next six years.

The SANDF paid for their studies in advance.

The group consisted of officers and non-commissioned officers employed by the SANDF as medical staff. The majority arrived in Cuba in August 2017 and started with a Spanish and pre-medical course. Some of them only commenced with their studies the following year.

The group raised some concerns with the surgeon-general. As these were not addressed, they refused to further attend classes. However, they remained at their base in Cuba.

It is said that while they refused to attend classes, they also placed pressure on the second-year cadets and other students not to attend classes.

They apparently dirtied the bathrooms and left taps running with the result that their dormitory ran out of water.

Their reasons for acting in this manner included that the satellite campus where they were enrolled was not accredited to offer medicine.

They said this hampered them in being registered with the Health Professions Council of SA. But the court found that their claims were unfounded and that the campus was an accredited institution.

The SANDF made numerous attempts to get them back to class and the defence attache to the Republic of Cuba requested them to attend classes, but they refused.

They said they wanted to withdraw from the programme and return to South Africa. They were told if they withdrew, they would be discharged.

The Surgeon-General, as a result, told them that he intended to apply for their dismissal.

They were, among others, accused of mutiny, which is a serious offence in the SANDF. They were instructed to return to South Africa.

On their return to South Africa a board of inquiry found they were absent without leave for 30 days while in Cuba and they were fired.

The group denied they were absent without leave and said they remained on campus while in Cuba and reported for roll-call. They said they could not be dismissed before a board of inquiry was established to inquire about their circumstances.

The SCA dismissed their defences and said as members of the armed forces they could not simply do as they pleased.

Pretoria News

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