/ 31 January 2024

SANDF reinstates employee after HIV discrimination

Defence Union Wants To Sue Sandf
A woman has been reinstated by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after she was denied employment because of her HIV status.

A woman has been reinstated by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after she was denied employment because of her HIV status. 

The woman, who was recruited in 2017 into the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) on a two-year fixed-term contract, said she was discriminated against by the defence force after she tested positive for HIV during a health assessment in 2018. 

The woman, who cannot be named for privacy reasons, said despite years of taking her antiretroviral treatment, maintaining good physical health and doing well in her training, she was not offered a contract in the Core Service System (CSS) after the completion of her MSDS training in December 2018. 

The other recruits who completed the MSDS programme were offered full-term contracts.

In September 2021, the woman approached the public interest law centre, Section27, for legal “assistance in asserting her rights and obtaining a contract in the CSS”. 

Section27 said it had been in talks with the SANDF since 2021 and only made progress in April 2023 when the defence force said it would look into re-employing the woman. 

After threatening the defence force with litigation, Section27 said its client was offered an employment contract in the CSS in December 2023.

“While we welcome the decision of the SANDF to re-employ our client in this case, she should not have had to spend five years unemployed because of the SANDF’s disregard for the law and her rights,” Section27’s Pearl Nicodemus said in a statement.

HIV discrimination by the SANDF is not a new issue, according to the rights organisation. 

In 2008, the Gauteng high court ruled that the defence force’s health classification policy, which excluded people living with HIV from recruitment, deployment and promotion, was unconstitutional. The SANDFs’ policy was reviewed and set aside.

But six years later, in 2014, defence force members living with HIV took the SANDF to court in the Dwenga & Others v Surgeon General of the South African Military Health Service & Others case for unfair discrimination. 

The court held that although the SANDF’s policy had been changed, its implementation amounted to the same discrimination held to be unconstitutional and a violation of the rights to dignity and equality. 

“Despite the two judgments the SANDF appears to persist in its unfair discrimination against people living with HIV, infringing on their rights to dignity and fair labour practices,” said Nicodemus.