The Namibian government says all former liberation struggle veterans who were members of the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) and the South West Africa Police Counter Insurgency Unit (Koevet) regiments of the apartheid-era South African Defence Force (SADF) will never be recognised as war veterans.
In Namibia, the war veteran status and its benefits is accorded only to the former guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), which was the military wing of the ruling South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO).
More than 25 000 members of the SWATF and Koevet regiments which helped the SADF in military operations against the nationalist guerrilla force want the Namibian government to recognise them as veterans of the liberation struggle and give them the same pay and material benefits as former PLAN members who were accorded the status at independence in 1990.
The ex-territorial force members were made up of the local San, Khoi-Khoi, Nama, Kavango, Ovambo and Herero tribesmen who battled against guerrillas inside Namibia while the Koevoet force played a leading role in engagements inside Namibia and externally in Angola. Both units were disbanded following South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia when it attained independence in 1990.
Speaking at the unveiling of a statue representing the first group of ex-PLAN fighters to infiltrate the country in the Omusati region last week, President Hipikefunye Pohamba said although the former colonial government soldiers can access old age allowances from the government, they will not be allowed to get any benefits from the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.
The ministry is responsible for distributing financial and other social welfare benefits to former PLAN fighters who fought the occupying South African Defence Force (SADF). Instead, he said the ex-colonial forces members should demand recognition and benefits from the South African government which employed them.
“I am asked to give veteran status to the [SWATF/Koevoet]. I will not give war veteran status to killers, and if they continue to threaten as they have been, if they want to go to the bush, we will meet them there. They talk about national reconciliation, but national reconciliation has its borders. If you go beyond the borders you are opening up wounds.
“We will not deny them the pension as accorded to old-age citizens, but they will not be given this money that is administrated by [Minister of Veterans Affairs] Nickey Iyambo. They must go to South Africa, but I will tell [South African president Jacob] Zuma not to accept them.”
Pohamba’s statement is a direct response to growing demands from the Namibia War Veterans Trust (NAMVET), an organisation of ex-members of the SWATF and Koevoet regiments which wants its members to be accorded war veterans status so that they can also benefit from the government-sponsored veterans grants.
The organisation has made several failed attempts to get recognition and war compensation from the South African and Namibian government in the past few years. It has since warned that its members are willing to wage war against the Namibian government if their demands are not met.
In Namibia, NAMVET’s struggle for recognition has been futile because the country’s Veterans Act does not recognize ex-SWATF and Koevet members as war veterans and views them as ‘enemy collaborators.’ The push for recognition in South Africa suffered a serious blow in September 2012 when the High Court ruled that apartheid-era soldiers from indigenous groups in South African and Namibia cannot be considered for integration into the new post-apartheid South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The Koevoet force served alongside the SADF’s 5 Recce company in intelligence gathering and counter-insurgency combat operations in Namibia between 11 January 1979 and 12 January 1990 under the command of Major General Sterk Hans Dreyer. From an overall command base in Oshakati in northern Namibia, the commandos also conducted hot-pursuits and staged cross-border raids deep into Southern Angola to destroy the logistics and training bases of PLAN guerrillas.