Ministerial ‘hostage’ incident seen as another intelligence failure


Three Cabinet Ministers held against their will by members of a grouping calling themselves the Liberation Struggle War Veterans (LSWV) drew reactions ranging from “denouncement” to “concern” and – in the light of July’s widespread and violent civil unrest – “another failure” by government’s intelligence apparatus.

The “failure” appellation came from outspoken Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow state security minister Dianne Kohler Barnard with one of Parliament’s defence oversight committees “opposing coercion and violence” to resolve veterans’ issues.  Reaction to last Thursday’s events at St George’s Hotel in Centurion also came from the disbanded MKMVA (MK Military Veterans’ Association) which indicated concern about “excessive force used against military veterans”.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose responsibilities include commander-in-chief of the national defence force, reshuffled his Cabinet in early August he deemed it good to do away with the State Security Ministry. He allotted the portfolio to his office – The Presidency – putting political oversight into the hands of Zizi Kodwa, Deputy Minister in The Presidency. Kodwa was deputy to former State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, now Public Service and Administration Minister.

Kohler Barnard’s harsh words for another apparent intelligence failure came alongside asking where the three Cabinet Ministers’ “enormously expensive VIP protectors” were. Government, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele, spends R1.7 billion a year to ensure 209 VIPs are safe.

“When the President shuffled his Cabinet and brought intelligence services into the Presidency, South Africa was told it would ‘ensure the country’s domestic and foreign intelligence services more effectively enable the President to exercise his responsibility to safeguard the security and integrity of the nation’. Sadly the intelligence division failed miserably again, hard on the heels of failing to foresee the KwaZulu-Natal/Gauteng riots in July,” she said.

Cyril Xaba, Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) co-chair, noted “challenges” faced by military veterans, “especially regarding inadequacies in the DMV (Department of Military Veterans, but remain unambiguous in opposing coercion and violence as a means to resolve them”.

He maintains the LSWV’s actions “undermined a legitimate service delivery call” and can potentially “delegitimise genuine grievances”.

African Defence Review (ADR) director Darren Olivier believes meeting with LSWV was “factional indulgence” adding the best way to improve veterans’ conditions is to fix the dysfunctional DMV, which has budget and mandate to look after them. “It’s a mess, because nobody in power actually cares about the plight of real MK veterans,” he said.

He added government ministers are  downplaying the incident and letting LSWV off the hook “because holding the group to account is inconvenient for ANC factional battles. Something as serious as taking Cabinet Ministers hostage is normalised. It’s dangerous and reckless.” He does not believe the blame for the ‘hostage’ situation should be placed entirely on the intelligence services.

Olivier notes LSWV is not an authentic representative of former MK and APLA soldiers, already eligible for benefits under a process going back to the dawn of democracy. Tens of thousands of liberation struggle veterans were recognised in the mid-1990s and years later, “as the MK Military Veterans Association became a more powerful faction in the ANC, particularly in KZN, there was pressure to reward veterans. The result was the 2011 Military Veterans Act, establishing the dMV with a R650 million annual budget.”

The DMV provides benefits to veterans, although not at the scale and pace government and veterans would like.

Olivier believes LSWV’s membership claims “are suspect and its demands unreasonable. Ministers indulge them because of ANC factional battles, nothing more.”

Former MK member, Babsy Sithole, told The Mercury last week’s events should be a warning to government. “When people are desperate they are willing to do anything to be heard. For a long time we’ve been talking about dire conditions in which some of our comrades live and it does not look like the authorities listened. That is how you end up having an episode like that. Last week’s episode was a long time coming and should be a wake-up call to all concerned,” the former MK member said.

The 56 arrested for the alleged hostage situation last week are expected to make their first court appearance today (Monday, 18 October). They are likely to face charges of kidnapping, among others.

Carl Niehaus, national spokesperson of the disbanded MKMVA, said “We are deeply concerned 56 military veterans were arrested, among them three women and mostly elderly people. It is more disconcerting that stun grenades were used in the raid on the meeting venue and some arrested sustained injuries.”

He said it was “total over reaction for special forces to have been sent in, which used excessive force to resolve a non-existent hostage and non-violent, situation. At no stage was there any violence, or threat to the lives of the ministers and the deputy minister.”

Niehaus said instead of  responding with excessive force, “our government should have shown appreciation for the frustrations of military veterans and acknowledged its own failure to  address these concerns over a totally unacceptable long period of time. It should also take responsibility that the DMV is grossly mismanaged, dysfunctional and fails to address the needs of military veterans.”