Zuma hands out medals, receives one


President Jacob Zuma received a medal during a parade at Air Force Base Waterkloof this morning, after handing out medals to dozens of military veterans.

During the parade, which began with a 21-gun salute and a flypast by the South African Air Force aerobatic team, the Silver Falcons, Zuma received a Decoration Medal in Platinum Class II for his role in the transition from apartheid to democracy. Former president Thabo Mbeki was scheduled to receive a medal as well, but he was not able to attend the parade.

Zuma awarded dozens of medals to mostly former Umkhonto we Sizwe members. Winnie Mandela received a Military Veterans Merit Medal in Gold while National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu was honoured with the Luthuli Commemorative Medal for “going to exile under perilous conditions”. Other dignitaries that received medals included Pallo Jordan, former Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang, Essop and Aziz Pahad, Chris Hani’s wife, Limpho, Josiah Jele, Reginald September and Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj.
“These parades bear important historical symbolism,” Zuma said. “We have created an opportunity for which the SANDF, a product of the struggle lead by these heroes…can recognise…the fighters who fought for democracy in our country.” He added that awarding medals was a way of restoring the dignity of those once vilified as terrorists.
“These medals are just a beginning,” Zuma said, and outlined some of the benefits veterans will receive. “We have allocated R1.6 billion to the Department of Military Veterans in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework,” Zuma said. “Two thousand military veterans are already benefiting from free healthcare.”
“The Department of Military Veterans has finalised the registration of veterans,” the President said. “This will make it possible for the provision of comprehensive benefits.” This includes compensation for those disabled or suffering severe psychological trauma due to their military actions; the provision of skills, education and training; the facilitation of employment placements; the provision of advice on business opportunities, and access to healthcare, housing and burial support. In addition, 700 veterans will be employed in Working for Water schemes with the Department of Water Affairs.

In addition, the government will build a museum to document the history and legacy of military veterans and will turn the Defence Centre of Advanced Training in Phelindaba into a training and ‘reskilling’ academy for military veterans. “Military veterans are not a charity or welfare….we should therefore work with them in partnership,” Zuma said.

He acknowledged that it is taking a bit longer than expected to cover all South Africa’s military veterans. There are many Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans who are still being honoured while Apla veterans will be honoured next year.
“These medals should serve as a form that represents our collective commitment to peace and progress,” Zuma said. “While our history of war and destruction is something we want to condemn we also want to ensure that those who have sacrificed so much are not forgotten and take their rightful place in society and history. This will mean that government should create the necessary environment for our veterans to play a meaningful role in society.”

Zuma handed out medals to several hundred Umkhonto we Sizwe military veterans during a parade at Air Force Base Waterkloof on October 27 as MK celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The first medal parade to be held since the inception of the Department of Military Veterans took place at Bloemspruit Air Force Base in Bloemfontein in early August. Founding members of MK, the former military wing of the African National Congress, received military service medals from Zuma.

According to the Military Veterans Act of 2011, a military veteran is “a South African citizen who rendered military service to any of the military organisations, which were involved on all the sides of South Africa’s liberation war from 1960 to 1994, those who served in the Union Defence Force before 1961, and those who became members of the South African National Defence Force after 1994, and has completed his/her military training and no longer performs military duties, and has not been dishonourably discharged from that military organisation.”