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HomeMedico-LegalSANDF wins mutiny case against Cuba medical students

SANDF wins mutiny case against Cuba medical students

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was correct to dismiss 35 medical students who stopped attending classes in Cuba.

A News24 report says the students refused to attend classes at their medical school between 11 February and 20 March 2019, because they claimed the institution was not registered. They defied an order by their commanding officer.

The SANDF charged them with mutiny and discharged them from the army in March 2019.

According to SANDF regulations, an officer who has been absent from official duty for more than 30 days without their commanding officer's permission is deemed to be dismissed.

The students took their dismissal to the High Court, which ruled that they should be reinstated and were entitled to a hearing.

However, the SANDF appealed.

In the meantime, the students won a case to have the court order enforced while they were awaiting the appeal decision.

The SANDF then launched an urgent application for an order preventing their reinstatement.

In hearing the case, the SCA agreed that the students' behaviour was akin to mutiny.

The group attended Universidad Ciencias Médicas (University of Medical Sciences, Ucimed) in Havana, Cuba. The university has two satellite campuses – Ciencia Médicas Facultad 2 Santiago de Cuba and Inter Arms School General José Maceo.

When the group started their studies at Ucimed in 2017, they were enrolled at the Inter Arms School.

On 3 April 2018, they raised concerns with the Surgeon General of the SANDF that the Inter Arms School was not accredited to offer medicine, that it had not done so before, and that the quality of education was unsatisfactory.

They also said there was no proof of registration for first-year students at the Ucimed campus in Santiago, which was necessary to register as medical students with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

The court found that their assertion that the school was not registered was “pure speculation”.

The students embarked on protest action and refused to attend classes. Nine of them were part of the 2018 cohort and would have completed their language studies only in 2019, after which they would have commenced studying medicine.

“After completing their Spanish and pre-medical courses, the appellants came home for their annual break in July 2018. Before returning to Cuba in August 2018 to commence their medical studies at the Inter Arms School, each of the appellants concluded an agreement concerning a foreign learning opportunity with the national government, represented by the Department of Defence,” read Judge Ashton Schippers’ judgment.

The judge ruled:

“The agreement was explained to them, and they were informed that they could withdraw from the programme if they did not consent to the essential terms and consequences of the agreement.”

In the agreement, they also undertook to attend all training sessions. Once the contracts were signed, the SANDF paid their salaries, service benefits, stipends and studies in full, in advance.

Despite it being paid in full, the students still boycotted classes.

Only four members of the 2017 group complied with orders to return to class.

The court papers read:

“The appellants had absented themselves from classes with no reference to their whereabouts. They refused to participate in activities and created disorder. They put pressure on second-year cadets (the 2016 group) and four students of the 2017 group not to attend classes. They dirtied bathrooms and left taps running, with the result that the dormitory ran out of water and other cadets could not shower. Despite numerous attempts by the SANDF to get them back into class, the students refused.”

On 18 February 2019, they were handed a letter by the Surgeon General, informing them that he intended to apply to the SANDF chief for their administrative dismissal for mutiny.

They were instructed to provide written submissions on why they should not be discharged, but they refused.

They individually wrote letters to the Surgeon General, requesting to be registered at an institution, preferably in South Africa, which met the standards of the HPCSA. A few weeks later, they were dismissed and asked to leave Cuba.

“The High Court thus erred in holding that if a dismissal… were to occur before a board of inquiry was convened and has recorded its findings, this would deprive the… inquiry of any meaningful purpose. The converse is true: …the SANDF, as a disciplined military force, will be stripped of its efficacy if it is construed as a first step in a board of inquiry procedure,” Schippers said.


News24 article – SANDF medical students dismissed for mutiny in Cuba won't be reinstated, Supreme Court rules (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


SANDF medical students lose appeal for reinstatement after Cuban ‘mutiny’


Battle over SANDF soldiers who ‘mutinied’ over Cuban medical training


SIU investigation into Cuban doctor training programme



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