Union takes army to court over Aids policies

A union representing South African soldiers is to take the country’s armed forces to court on Thursday over alleged discrimination against HIV-infected personnel, the union said on Wednesday.

The South African Security Forces’ Union (Sasfu) accuses the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) of discriminating against HIV-infected people by refusing them employment, promotion or deployment to foreign posts.

“They have got a policy of mandatory testing. Being HIV-negative is a pre-requisite to gain employment in the SANDF,” said Sasfu deputy president Charles Jacobs.

He said after being employed, members of the military had to undergo mandatory HIV testing once a year during a health assessment, and every time they applied for a promotion or deployment overseas.

Jacobs said South Africa was the only country in the world whose military operated under these “unconstitutional” policies.

With five-and-a-half million HIV infections in a population of 48-million, South Africa has one of the world’s worst Aids problems, and according to Khumalo up to 35% of defence-force personnel were infected in 2004.

According to the Aids Law Project (ALP), which fights for the legal rights of those living with HIV/Aids, the Defence Ministry has argued the army is too strenuous a place for those living with Aids.

“The argument that you cannot employ someone with HIV has been a lame excuse used by employers for a very long time,” said Nonkosi Khumalo, a researcher with the ALP, at a Johannesburg press conference.

She said the ALP was representing Sasfu and three individuals in the Pretoria High Court hearings, which hoped to have the policies reviewed and set aside.

“The problem is there, the issue is they haven’t found better ways of dealing with the problem,” she said.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota has been quoted as saying HIV-positive people could not be recruited as people were needed who can “withstand difficult missions”.

However, Sasfu and the ALP argue that HIV-infected people were able to function as normal and healthy citizens for many years with the correct medication.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, addressing the SANDF last year, said “HIV-positive individuals in the military should be given every opportunity to do the tasks for which they have been trained and which they are still fit to perform”.—Sapa-AFP

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