Sol­diers plan to claim mil­lions

CityPress - - News - ERIKA GIB­SON news@city­press.co.za

Barely a month af­ter the chief of the de­fence force, Gen­eral Solly Shoke, re­called 509 sol­diers he had placed on spe­cial leave for march­ing to the Union Build­ings in 2009, they are plan­ning to claim mil­lions of rands in a class ac­tion. Al­though they sat at home with full pay for six years and were re­turned to work three weeks ago, two of these sol­diers sub­mit­ted pa­pers to the North Gaut­eng High Court in or­der to set up the class ac­tion against their boss.

The first step of ap­proval from the court would be to hear the sol­diers’ claims in one class ac­tion.

In jus­ti­fy­ing the rea­sons for the class ac­tion against the de­fence force, the South African Na­tional De­fence Union is blam­ing the mil­i­tary for hav­ing squan­dered at least R560 mil­lion on po­ten­tial salaries and ben­e­fits for the sol­diers, who were at home dur­ing their sus­pen­sion. The trial was sub­se­quently aban­doned.

The union be­lieves it would cost the mil­i­tary a lot more if the class ac­tion is suc­cess­ful.

The sol­diers want to claim for the “po­ten­tial” dam­ages they have suf­fered due to not be­ing able to fur­ther their ca­reers or at­tend ad­vance­ment cour­ses through­out the pe­riod of their sus­pen­sion.

Cap­tain Ro­mano Lot­ter­ing of 21 SAI (in­fantry bat­tal­ion), who is act­ing as spokesper­son for the group, said the de­fence force was de­lib­er­ately prej­u­di­cial to­wards them by try­ing to have them dis­charged.

“Now the sit­u­a­tion has blown up in the mil­i­tary’s face and we want to see who is go­ing to ac­cept the re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said.

Al­though the size of the claim will only be de­ter­mined much later, they fore­see it amount­ing to hun­dreds of mil­lions of rand.

When asked, what if the mil­i­tary can’t af­ford it? Lot­ter­ing said: “Then we ask the sher­iff to con­fis­cate Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s pres­i­den­tial jet [which is regis­tered to the de­fence force].”

The war be­tween the sol­diers and the mil­i­tary started when a num­ber of sol­diers took leave to par­tic­i­pate in the protest ac­tion in 2009. Many were sub­se­quently fired but the union took le­gal ac­tion, forc­ing the mil­i­tary to with­draw its ac­tion. It sub­jected the sol­diers to a court case and charged them with var­i­ous crimes, in­clud­ing be­ing ab­sent with­out leave, in­sub­or­di­na­tion and aban­don­ing their posts.

Lot­ter­ing says that he, for ex­am­ple, was on leave for the birth of his daugh­ter. He was there­fore not ab­sent with­out leave as the mil­i­tary claimed and he has copies of his unit’s attendance reg­is­ter to prove it.

Nev­er­the­less, the dis­charge of the sol­diers made it to the Supreme Court of Ap­peal twice, where the de­fence force was given a bloody nose both times. But still the mil­i­tary did not al­low the sol­diers to re­turn to work.

A spe­cial dis­ci­plinary tri­bunal, led by for­mer chief justice Sandile Ng­cobo, was then set up to try the sol­diers. In April, Ng­cobo found the de­fence force did not have the right to take dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against the sol­diers out­side the struc­tures of the mil­i­tary court.

He fur­ther de­ter­mined that the tri­bunal didn’t have the ju­ris­dic­tion to make a rul­ing out­side of the Mil­i­tary Dis­ci­pline Code, on which the mil­i­tary le­gal sys­tem is based, in a case that is pri­mar­ily of a dis­ci­plinary na­ture.

Since Ng­cobo’s rul­ing the sol­diers are how­ever still in the dark about their fu­ture, says Lot­ter­ing.

“Six years and 10 months of our lives have been wasted. Ca­reer­wise we will never be able to re­cover be­cause the deficit is just too great. Even at this mo­ment, we don’t know where and when we will have to re­port for duty again.”

The last thing he re­ceived was a lawyer’s let­ter in Septem­ber last year, telling him that he is one of the “ac­cused” be­fore Ng­cobo’s tri­bunal.

In their ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore the court the sol­diers are ask­ing that the army re­lease a com­plete list of names of the sol­diers who were af­fected, as well as take out a news­pa­per ad to in­form those in­volved of the class ac­tion. Those who do not want to take part in the suit have the op­tion to with­draw from it.

The court has given the de­fence force un­til July 25 to in­di­cate whether it is op­pos­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion. It did not re­spond to en­quiries.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.