Military vets want own DG: report

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African National Congress (ANC) military veterans are lobbying Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to appoint two directors-general, one of whom would deal only with veterans’ affairs.

Business Day newspaper today reports the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association has long been lobbying for recognition, including the establishment of its own ministry.

The renamed department — the Department of Defence and Military Veterans Department — was a compromise, but a major gain for the veterans, many of whom live in poverty, the paper says.

MKMVA general secretary Ayanda Dlodlo said although a full military veterans ministry would have been the “first prize”, they were happy with the present outcome. The “second prize” would be reconfiguration of the defence department so that the veterans component gets its own budget vote and director-general.

The proposed structure , however, was not just about meeting the needs of the MK veterans but all military veterans, including former members of the apartheid-era South African Defence Force. “I`m looking beyond welfare; I`m looking at what military veterans can give to the country.”

Dlodlo said failure by the state to harness the skills of military veterans had led to the establishment of mercenary outfits. “If we didn`t need the skills internally, this is what we could have offered the African continent,” she said.

The association was also pleased that both Sisulu and deputy minister Thabang Makwetla were former MK members. It believed that Sisulu`s record of delivery would come in handy when attending to soldiers` demands. As housing minister, Sisulu had been quick to understand that the veterans needed housing, said Dlodlo.

The ANC`s 2007 conference in Polokwane resolved to establish a presidential commission on military veterans, ahead of the introduction of a “comprehensive social package for all ex-combatants of former liberation armies”.

On the other hand, the South African National Defence Union has already given Sisulu a taste of what to expect in her new portfolio. Earlier this week its members protested outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria when the Cabinet was scheduled to have its first meeting.

The union demanded that soldiers` salaries be placed high on the new government`s list of priorities. Its chief negotiator, Jeffrey Dubazana, said the defence department had previously ignored their proposal. “Basically, we are saying this is the last month. An agreement should be reached by the end of the month.”

The South African National Security Forces Union (Sasfu) also welcomed the appointment of Sisulu to the ministry. Its president, Bheki Mvovo, said the union was keen on getting the Military Bargaining Council working. “In the security cluster, members of the defence force are the worst paid,” he said.

Sasfu also wanted to finalise the new regulations on the employment, deployment or promotion of HIV-positive soldiers.

Since the Pretoria High Court ruled against the present regulations last May, the military has yet to resolve the issue. “We sent our experts to look at the draft,” said Mvovo.

A purge in the offing?

Integration was also an outstanding issue in the South African National Defence Force, which still had too many old soldiers, mainly from the liberation forces, in the lower ranks.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe last month hinted at an extensive restructuring in the military.

In the run-up to last month`s general election Janes Defence Weekly (JDW) reported ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe as saying the party would look to “purge” the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) of senior military and police officers that represented the “old order”.

“The key people in the security institutions are from the old order … [inherited] from the previous government,” Mantashe told reporters. “We negotiated our way in … in 1994, and the impact is with us now.”

The “old order” included not just white former SA Defence Force personnel but also ex-Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei homeland defence force officers, many of whom are now well-respected and serving in the upper echelons of the SANDF.

JDW correspondent Helmoed-Römer Heitman notes that among those “that could enter early retirement are the chiefs of joint operations, human resources and defence materiel, as well as the head of the air force. Other two-star officers in key posts throughout the SANDF could also face dismissal.”

  

He adds: “Many of the country’s colonels and brigadiers are due to retire within the next few years, and their natural successors – the captains and majors from the ranks of the apartheid-era SADF and Homeland armies – were induced to leave the armed forces following the ANC’s first victory in 1994.

“Replacing them were members of the ‘non-statutory forces’: the armed wings of the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress, most of whom have been pushed through courses and appointments to achieve their ranks but have gained little practical experience since being integrated into the SANDF, despite a substantial number of deployments as part of peacekeeping operations around the continent.”



Heitman says a purge of the “top levels of the security forces has evoked worries that a 10-year ‘experience hole’ could cripple the SANDF while it awaits the rise through the ranks of younger officers that have joined since 1994 and undergone a normal career progression.”