You’re in the Air Force Now
By Jerome Veldsman
Erasmus and Another v Minister of Defence and Others, a decision of the High Court, Bloemfontein, on 24 August 2017, dealt with two majors who were dissatisfied with their written transfer instructions (“signals” in military language).
Under the Air Force Career Management Policy, a member must not serve longer than four years in a post. Both majors had been in the same posts at the Air Force Base, Bloemfontein, for much longer; and both received geographical transfers. Their complaints fell on deaf ears, but they did not exhaust the formal internal remedies. Rather, they simply ignored the transfers, and stayed on in the residential area of the Base.
The Officer Commanding forbade them access to the Base proper, and even placed photographs of them at the entrance gate, to make sure they were denied entry. One result was that in the roll-call book they were marked AWOL. Fearing that withholding of their salaries was imminent, the majors applied to Court for relief, based on unfair labour practices, and the like.
The Labour Relations Act does not apply to members of the SANDF, and the majors did not have good arguments.
The Judge quoted from a 2001 Constitutional Court Case:
“Although the overarching power of the Constitution prevails and although the Bill of Rights is not excluded, the relationship between the SANDF and its members has certain unique features. For instance, what would be acceptable in another employment relationship is not only impermissible for a soldier but may be visited by punishment as severe as deprivation of liberty for several years.”
The Judge held:
“The SANDF functions within a unique command structure and strict obedience to lawful orders and professional respect for those in command [are] required within such structure.”
“Civil courts should not be allowed to interfere with the processes of the military, save in exceptional circumstances and only when there is clear proof of a breach of a member’s constitutional rights.”
The majors lost, and were ordered to pay the legal costs (probably not less than R100 000 apiece).