Questions around new veterans’ pension regulations lead to WhatsApp groups

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The signing into law of draft pension regulations for military veterans in December – with the first payment yet to be made – drew criticism for not including former SA Defence Force (SADF) conscripts and volunteers, in particular those who stood up and were counted for the military skills development (MSD) programme.

Making the issue around old soldiers’ pensions worse, according to the Whale Coast branch of the SA Air Force Association (SAAFA), is the suspension of Irene Mpolweni, Department of Military Veterans (DMV) Director-General. Another concern raised is about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recently appointed number two in the form of Paul Mashatile, a former Gauteng premier and one time Cabinet minister during Jacob Zuma’s terms of office.

The Whale Coast SAAFA branch quotes a defenceWeb report stating Mashatile is “also tasked to take up leadership of the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans (PTTMV)”. He will seemingly take up where his predecessor (David Mabuza) left off.

The criticism led to creation of three WhatsApp groups. All seek answers to “what about statutory force members?” The groups maintain the new pension regulations are “contrary” to the South African Constitution as well as the Defence and Military Veterans acts. The groups are “Objection NSF Only Pension”, “2object NSF Only Pension” and “2objectt NSF only pension” and, SAAFA Whale Coast reports, have over two thousand four hundred participants with more expected.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais is another who is anti the new pension arrangement. He maintains it will “not stand a legal challenge”.

DA deputy shadow defence and military veterans minister Maliyakhe Shelembe said a “disappointing” defence minister Thandi Modise is “undermining and failing to uphold” legislation pertaining specifically to military veterans. According to the Military Veterans Act of 2011: “Military veterans means any South African citizen who rendered military service to any of the military organisations, statutory and non-statutory forces involved in all sides of South Africa’s liberation’s War from 1960 to 1994, who became members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) after 1994. In the draft the Minister only mentions the non-statutory forces Umkhonto weSizwe and Apla (Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army”.  Shelembe wants Modise to explain why the South African Cape Corps was left out of the draft regulations.

Speaking during a December briefing on the veterans pension pay-outs, which she said would be delayed due to “unforeseen administrative processes”, Modise was reported by an official government website as saying “priority would be given to former non-statutory forces’ members as the main target group to access this benefit”. This, according to her, was due to the intervention of the Presidential task team on military veterans, led by then Deputy President David Mabuza.

Sunday World last week reported the DMV failed to unlock “disbursement” of funds to war veterans even though National Treasury approved funds worth hundreds of millions of Rands “towards the roll-out of pension benefits”.

The amount comprises of R37 million for the financial year ending this month, R102 million for the next financial year, R109 million for the 2024-2025 financial year and R115 million for the following year, the weekend publication reported.

Lwazi Mzobe, leader of the Liberation Struggle War Veterans of South Africa, said, “There is a lack of political will from deputy minister Makwetla and the hasty pronouncement by deputy president Mabuza while there were no systems in place.”

Modise’s spokesperson Cornelius Monama told Sunday World parliamentary processes are being followed, including gazetting regulations and public consultations. “The processes are currently underway,” he said.