Mabuza plans to bring veterans’ remains to South Africa

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September is Heritage Month in South Africa – a fact taken into account by Deputy President David Mabuza when answering questions in the National Assembly (NA) this week.

Mabuza was named to head a military veterans task team by President Cyril Ramaphosa. One of six questions asked of the South African political number two related to this area of responsibility. ANC parliamentarian Thabo Mmutle wanted Mabuza to provide an update on meetings with military veterans’ organisations as well as outcomes.

The broad range of the question gave Mabuza the opportunity to speak on veterans’ affairs ranging from database registration and verification through to delivery of services and involvement of provincial premiers, revising the Military Veterans Act, ensuring old soldiers receive benefits due to them and the heritage and memorialisation of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Taking his cue from Heritage Month, Mabuza informed his questioner and parliamentarians in the National Assembly, the task team work stream has taken “the lead in tracking and locating the remains of military veterans who fell in exile, for possible memorialisation or repatriation”.

In this regard South Africa is in contact with SADC (Southern African Development Community) “partners” as part of a “a project to exhume and repatriate the remains of the fallen”.

Mabuza sees provincial premiers as integral to ensuring veterans receive their dues in, among others, healthcare, housing, education and business assistance.

“It is imperative the provincial and local spheres of government are encouraged to participate in this effort, so the military veterans we seek to emancipate are in fact, residents in precincts of various provinces and local authorities. In setting out the roadmap for all parties involved, it is our view it will be necessary to enhance existing institutions and locate co-ordination and support to military veteran’s programmes in the offices of provincial premiers.

“This should not be read to imply that provinces will be expected to assume responsibility for servicing military veterans on their own – this remains the statutory obligation of the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans.

“The important axis we seek to emphasise engaging with provincial stakeholders, is the role effective co-ordination located closer to the provincial executive could play in hastening delivery of services to military veterans, many of who are in dire straits.

“This axis will enable the Department of Military Veterans (DMV) to timeously and effectively communicate and engage with military veteran communities in provinces.

“It will further ensure appropriate services are promptly dispensed to military veterans, without the need to travel long distances to seek support in Tshwane.”

Also in this axis is a role for various government departments including transport, agriculture, land reform and rural development to include military veterans in programmes and projects where they can add value.

“With the right level of commitment, it should be possible for our government to ensure these co-ordinating mechanisms to facilitate alleviation of the plight of people who gave their lives for the attainment of the freedom we all enjoy today.”

On the all-important issue of personal information for the military veterans’ database, 4 016 applications have been received with “a portion” still being reviewed.

Another development Mabuza informed parliamentarians of is a proposal for a database appeals board. This Mabuza sees “as a crucial mechanism to ensure applicants who may not agree with the outcome of a verification team verdict afforded an avenue for appeal”.