THE first of several pregnant soldiers who claim to have been humiliated by a senior officer at the Oudtshoorn Infantry School will formally lodge her grievances in the town's Equality Court today.
The soldier, who is a permanent member of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), was allegedly ridiculed by a commanding officer at the base for falling pregnant. She is the first to take her case to the Equality Court despite seven others claiming to have suffered the same humiliation at the hands of a senior officer.
But national secretary of the South African National Defence Union (Sandu) Advocate Pikkie Greeff said the other women had been too afraid to make their grievances public. He said they feared further victimisation.
The alleged humiliation of the women has coincided with claims that young recruits are also being beaten and burnt with cigarette lighters by senior officers. Several parents of the recruits – many of whom have only just finished school – have written letters to Sandu, complaining that their children have been kicked and slapped around but later refused medical attention.
"What is terrible is that these are permanent soldiers, and therefore are entitled to full maternity benefits. Yet they are being embarrassed by senior officers for falling pregnant," Greeff said.
In a letter written to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula last week, the union called for the commanding officer to be suspended.
The women were told they were a disgrace to the defence force and would be transferred to other units as they were "unwelcome" at the base.
"The officer also told them that he would personally apologise to the new recruits for the 'poor quality of instructors' who fall pregnant," the union wrote.
However, Greeff said the appeal had fallen on deaf ears. "The fact is that a Sandu delegation has not even been allowed to enter the base, and we are unable to ascertain the extent of the abuse that is going on.
"The worst thing is that the recruits don't even have any way of complaining because their cellphones are taken away and the only time they get to speak to their parents is on public phones. We are also thinking of taking this to the Human Rights Commission."
But SANDF spokesman Brigadier Xolani Mabanga said yesterday the army had received no such complaints about the alleged abuses at the base. "If soldiers have valid arguments, as loyal members of the SANDF they should have reported the matter through the available structures," he said.
"If this soldier is going to the Equality Court ... the allegations will have to be proved in court."
Last year female recruit Ntokozo Ngcobo, 21, committed suicide at the base after she and her long-time partner were allegedly publicly humiliated. Sandu claimed that Ngcobo and her partner – who is also a soldier at the base – had their door kicked down while they were in his quarters.
Both were then rebuked in front of senior officers. In a suicide note, Ngcobo left behind she reportedly made mention of being humiliated.
In June last year, Sandu also called for an independent investigation into the training methods used in Oudtshoorn after five recruits died during the course of three years.