Provisionally dismissed for abandoning their posts and “threatening national security” in a violent and allegedly illegal strike, nearly R150 million has now been spent on paying the salaries of 1 100 soldiers who have been ordered to stay at home.
The soldiers, the majority of whom are from Gauteng, were dismissed after they stormed the lawns of the Union Buildings two years ago, setting alight and stoning vehicles during clashes with police.
The soldiers embarked on their actions following demands for better wages and working conditions.
To date, according to the South African Defence Union (Sandu), R2m in legal fees has been spent by the Defence Department in keeping the soldiers at home with another R70m expected to be paid in salaries to the soldiers over the next year as the court case continues.
Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff. said: “It is ironic. The country is told that the soldiers are to be dismissed because they allegedly abandoned their posts, yet their posts remain vacant as they are kept at home on ‘special leave’, when instead they could be used constructively to defend the country.
“My question now to Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is how did this security threat suddenly disappear? Was the minister lying then or is she lying now about the so-called security threat these troops posed?”
He said she had insisted that instead of taking the matter through a military court, the process should be taken through a civilian court.
“When Sandu got a judgment in 2010 stating that the soldiers’ dismissal was unconstitutional, Sisulu applied for leave to appeal. In February this year that leave for appeal was denied which saw her turning to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein to appeal the dismissal of her original appeal.
“This process is going to take at least another year, which means that R70m will be spent in salaries on soldiers ordered to stay at home.
“On top of this millions more will now be spent on more legal fees, taking the total amount way beyond R200m which will be spent fighting this matter out. You can be guaranteed that either one of the parties will be unhappy with the decision from the appeals court which means this matter will go to the Constitutional Court, meaning that millions more will continue to be spent on a process, which if it had gone through the military courts, could have been resolved in a year,” said Greeff.
He said while the soldiers were staying at home the majority of their posts remained vacant.
“This is extremely demoralising. Every day these members ask when they can go back to work and every day we have to tell them not yet.
“The real kick in the head is that the ministry insisted that they wanted a more speedy process than the military court, yet here we sit two years down the line with this process having gone nowhere,” he said.
Greeff, lashing out at the Defence Department’s service commission established after the strike to look at working conditions within the defence force, said while pay scales had initially been brought into line with the rest of the public service, soldiers were once again lagging behind the rest of the country’s public servants.
“They continue to work in the same downtrodden conditions and atmosphere of threat and intimidation as before, with the department at a total loss about informing soldiers about their future pay and conditions of service.
“SANDF members have seen ample evidence that the so-called service commission is appearing more and more to be a gigantic scam aimed at extending undefined promises indefinitely.
“The commission, for all intents and purposes, is a dead horse that has started to smell. Parliament’s time has been wasted on legislating the service commission into being, with the department at a total loss of how to start it up or even to give it a semblance of functionality.
“Sisulu must get the department’s house in order or face the inevitable backlash of dissatisfaction and desperation that is growing within the ranks of the SANDF,” said Greeff.
Sisulu’s spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, said South Africa’s laws required that when people were suspended from their jobs they had to be paid their salaries until their disciplinary process was completed
“The case is before the supreme court and as long as it is still on, there is no reason why the soldiers should not be paid their salaries. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and we have no reason not to pay their salaries.
“We are relaxed and will go to the Constitutional Court if needs be and will follow the laws of the country as we are a law-abiding institution.