Improvement expected in military veterans’ affairs with own budget

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South Africa’s military veterans now have an own budget rather than being an add-on to the defence budget, the senior government representative with special responsibility for veterans’ affairs said in the National Assembly this week.

Thabang Makwetla, deputy to Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV), indicated the separate vote for veterans came about because of a perception among old and retired soldiers that “things are not happening for them or their interests are neglected” due to the absence of a dedicated military veterans ministry.

He pointed out the separate vote for military veterans sees the responsibility of accounting for own budget through Department of Military Veterans (DMV) accounting and budget systems.

“This concludes the bureaucratic process of establishing a stand-alone department for military veterans which commenced a decade ago,” he told parliamentarians.

Makwetla indicated “steady progress” at the DMV, under acting Director General, retired General Derrick Mgwebi, adding it was “modest” because the establishment of the department “stalled midway”.

“DMV budget allocations plateaued before a full department could be realised. As a result the department only exists nationally. It lacks meaningful infrastructure in the provinces which deprives military veterans access to its services.”

This constraint, coupled with an internal environment “characterised by several debilitating subjective weaknesses” further contributed to the lack of progress.

The deputy minister singled out lack of skills, planning capacity and policy gaps as contributing to “widespread dissatisfaction among military veterans”.

Dissatisfaction came to a head with petitions from military veterans to President Cyril Ramaphosa. This saw South Africa’s first citizen meet with the department headed by Mapisa-Nqakula and Makwetla.

“The political intervention was a major relief and shot in the arm to the mandate and mission of DMV, bringing the needed executive weight to resolve some obstacles constraining support for military veterans.

“The President appreciated the need for extraordinary measures to bring instant relief to the needs of military veterans,” Makwetla said, adding this came in the form of three pillars.

“Firstly, there was agreement that as a matter of urgency provinces should be roped in to facilitate immediate accessibility of services to military veterans through provincial line-function departments, including metro and district councils. Secondly, all national departments whose mandates address some military veterans’ needs be brought onto the agenda of the task team (the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans headed by Deputy President David Mabuza). Thirdly, the military pension provided for in DMV legislated policy, be introduced as a matter of agency (sic) and that the R350 SRD (social relief of distress) COVID-19 grant be paid out to all destitute military veterans with immediate effect.”

Mabuza’s task team has, according to the deputy minister, met all military veterans’ associations representing former statutory and non-statutory forces. Grievances were “processed and negotiated, barring a demand by one group for a once-off payment of R2 million per person, for participation in the struggle. This was considered virtually impossible and set aside”.

Seven work streams have to date been set up by the task team. Their areas of action are verification and cleansing of the veterans’ database; a legislative review; restructuring the DMV; the issue of military pensions; social services; a Presidential pardon and heritage and memorialisation. Makwetla did not give any indication of progress or report back on achievements.