History of the South African National Defence Union

The South African National Defence Union (SANDU) has come a long way in its struggle to establish and secure a healthy and sound labour environment, in which its members in uniform can function. What started off as a small, but determined, group of members in 1994, has grown into a major role player in the South African military environment.

Despite this immense struggle for recognition, SANDU has succeeded, through commitment and sheer determination, to win many significant battles concerning the rights and interests of its members.

From the very start, SANDU took the plight of its uniformed members to the highest authorities including the the first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, who received a delegation of SANDU officials during April 1995. At this significant event, Mr Mandela expressed his sympathy for the plight of our members in uniform. He committed himself to the principles of fair labour practices as well as equitable treatment for all members in uniform.

Bear in mind that, back then, the SANDF Command structures regarded everybody, who was associated with SANDU, as traitors and as a threat to the military environment. SANDU believes that the support shown by President Mandela, at the time, played a major role in SANDU’s survival until SANDU was officially legalised by the Constitutional Court on 26 May 1999.

For this important role, SANDU wishes to express its sincere gratitude to tata Mandela!

Widespread public support for SANDU and its cause, was also gained at two successful public protest marches to the Union Buildings during 1995. These protest marches firmly established SANDU as the true and legitimate voice of our members in uniform, not only amongst South Africans, but also abroad, thanks to extensive media coverage. These events also heralded a period of tremendous growth for the union, as many more members started to unite behind the voice of SANDU.

The Constitutional Court Case, 26 May 1999: This protracted court battle, fought by SANDU, cleared the way for the establishment of labour rights for members in uniform. This was a first for Africa and it also strengthened and consolidated SANDU’s position as the only legitimate military trade union on the African continent.

The outcome of the Constitutional Court case directly lead to the promulgation of legislation to regulate labour rights and Military Trade Unions within the SA Department of Defence (DoD). The legislation is known as Chapter XX of the General Regulations for the SANDF and Reserve, which was promulgated on 20 August 1999, three months after SANDU’s victory in the Constitutional Court. Subsequently, the Military Bargaining Council (MBC) had its first sitting during October 2000 and the formation of the Military Arbitration Board (MAB) was finalised on 3 July 2002.

SANDU was the only Military Trade Union who played a role in the establishment and the formation of these two statutory bodies.

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