Union gives SANDF deadline to reinstate 'AWOL' students in Cuba

The South African soldiers studying medicine in Cuba were suspended earlier this month.
The South African soldiers studying medicine in Cuba were suspended earlier this month.
Image: GALLO/GETTY IMAGES

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) on Tuesday offered a different version to military top brass as to why 35 soldiers studying medicine in Cuba could not continue with their studies abroad.

The defence force earlier this month announced that it had suspended 35 soldiers after they went AWOL (absent without leave) in Cuba for more than a month while studying in the Caribbean nation.

However‚ Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said that media reports claiming that the medical students‚ who are represented by the union‚ returned to SA because they went on a mutiny were untrue.

The union has demanded that the SANDF reinstates the students by Wednesday - or face legal action.

"Some say they went on AWOL. I see a very prominent Sunday newspaper this weekend even made the startling allegation that these students actually deserted their posts. None of these allegations have a fraction of truth in them. They are all false‚ they are lies and they are manufactured by the management of the SANDF‚" alleged Greeff.

Greeff said the students were contracted by the SANDF to join as soldiers and to study for medical degrees to become doctors. “For that purpose‚ they were posted to Cuba to study there‚” he said.

After studying at the university in Cuba and finishing a semester‚ he said they were then moved to a different institution‚ which was little more than an infantry battalion in the Cuban Defence Force.

Greeff said the students started asking questions because they were not registered as medical students‚ as required by the Health Professions Act‚ and the institution in Cuba where they were studying was not accredited.

“The defence force management and powers-that-be in Cuba could not explain this‚ could not provide a solution to them and could not address their concerns‚” he said.

“In the end‚ it simply boils down to requiring someone to study medicine in circumstances that are clearly unlawful and in breach of their employment contracts."

He said the students were told that if they were not satisfied with the situation‚ they could get on a plane back to South Africa and be regarded as dismissed.

Greeff said they also received a letter dismissing them for so called misconduct‚ although the nature of the misconduct was not detailed in the letter and their members were not given any hearing.

"We are not going to stand for this kind of thing. We consulted with the students. They are all our members and we have warned the defence force‚ through our lawyers‚ that they have until April 10 to reinstate these students and comply with the obligation in the employment contract‚" he said.

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