“Noluthando alias ‘Agnes’ Ncwana, to whose memory I wish to dedicate my remarks in this budget debate this morning, was a military veteran who served both as a member of the celebrated June 16 detachment of the erstwhile military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe and in our post-1994 National Defence Force.
Agnes was among the first young females to leave the country from Cape Town’s black townships a few weeks after the 1976 uprisings. Even after retirement, the bond and respect she had for those who are soldiers led her to work as an auxiliary in the Department of Military Veterans (DMV), assisting military veterans to access health care services at our military hospitals. She was the darling of many military veterans of advanced age in this community. She was their dependable health-worker, who executed her modest duties with passion, and was always there each time anyone of them was in dire straits.
“Agnes Ncwana died as she lived, a fighter, a brave woman, a care-giver, a militant, a patriot and a firm corruption-buster. Her assassins will not stop the commitment, and now that she is no more, the obligation we have to realise is to have a fully functional DMV, with provincial offices which are adequately staffed; a DMV which has policies and Standing Operating Procedures on all the benefits and services which must be provided to military veterans; a DMV whose provincial offices are sufficiently publicized and have Service Level Agreements with other relevant line-function sister departments to deliver these service; a DMV which at the end restores the dignity of military veterans; a DMV which addresses their needs with compassion, and empowers them to be self-sufficient and to contribute their talents again to nation-building.
“Comrade Agnes’ last wish was for mourners at her funeral not to put on military uniform. In spite of having spent her entire life serving the military, she wanted to depart from our midst free from images of war and conflict, because she fought for peace, and she experienced the misery of war.
“It is common knowledge that over the past 25 years, the locus of security in our country has understandably shifted from defence to Justice, Intelligence and Policing. The Defence function has suffered ‘death by a thousand cuts’ to use Gavin Cawthra’s expression. The hollowing out of our defence is more a function of a policy drift engendered by politically correct short-term popular considerations rather than rational decision-making and a long term consideration of the challenges we face.
“On the other hand, the continuous decline of our military capability over this period is such that we are now confronted by an irreversible loss of capabilities, and a Defence Force which cannot fully meet its constitutional mandate. It is disconcerting that to restore the defence capability South Africa had 25 years ago, we need an injection of over R34 billion to the current Defence budget. Simply put, our country is under-insured. Lest we forget, the national political project to build a prosperous, non-racial non-sexist, democratic and open society is taking place in a world where others still view it with scepticism.
“The above conjuncture, as the Minister said, evidently calls for a dialogue over the country’s defence function. However, another Defence Review is considered inopportune. Defence Reviews have a reputation of being costly, convoluted and time consuming. The Ministry is evaluating the scope of issues to be addressed and the best way of handling them. These include, but are not limited to the following:-
-an overhaul of the force design to enable training and equipping of the SANDF in a more direct manner for a multiplicity of goals.
-to design and plan on the basis of the resource levels we realistically have at our disposal.
-to effect a paradigm shift from previous fundamentals which were informed by the security threat as perceived in the apartheid days, (including the infrastructure footprint).
-the one force concept and the place of the Reserves today, and their peculiarities,etc. . .
“When our defence establishment was constituted following the integration process in 1994, we took a view that to maintain an appropriate military capability for the country in an affordable economic way, our defence force must be structured and maintained on the basis of the ‘one force concept’. This was going to assist in cutting down the regular force which would be complemented by a professional Reserve Force.
“Among the things we need to do is to ensure that “the new Military Strategy enables the SANDF to develop combat, combat support, and combat service support capabilities, both in the Reserves and the regular that conform to the POSTEDFIT systems approach.
“On this occasion last year the Minister highlighted the following ongoing priorities in and around the Reserves which are being worked upon to strengthen the SANDF:-
-Maximizing the combat capability of the SANDF by staffing the combat units with existing young, healthy and fit soldiers. This will improve both the average staffing of units, as well as mean-age of those units.
-Ensuring the retention of technical, medical and other scarce skills.
-Driving career management and succession planning in pursuit of a young professionalized and skilled Defence Force.
-Deficiencies and corruption in the current Reserve Force system must be addressed.
-Overhauling the entire Reserve Force service system.
“DMV has also made modest strides in its work to improve the lives of military veterans. Over the past financial year 2018/19 the Department managed to assist military veterans with mandatory benefits. 10,700 military veterans and their dependents received bursaries; A thousand military veterans received newly built houses; 17,000 were assisted with health services; and 3 memorial sites were erected in honour of military veterans.
“The DMV has increasingly encountered challenges emanating from unintended consequences of its policy articulation. These deficiencies naturally, have found their way into the current legislation. This has necessitated the need for the Military Veterans Act to be amended. Among the issues to be ventilated is the definition of beneficiaries of the benefits and services rolled out by DMV.
“In its origins the DMV was intended to look after yesterday’s freedom fighters, those who were left destitute by their participation in the People’s War of Liberation in South Africa. This confusion is laid bare by the mission statement of the department which talks about the “restoration of dignity and appreciation of the contribution of military veterans to our freedom and nation-building.” That notwithstanding, governments in many parts of the world do look after ex-soldiers. Practices differ. Furthermore, in dispensing these benefits, from experience, there is a need for the regulations to be fine-tuned with a view to improve equity, accountability, fairness etc. All the above and more, must also find clarity in a white-paper.
“One of the biggest challenges of the DMV is the widespread absence of policies governing the different benefits, their Standard Operating Procedures and their delivery modalities. This is further work for the administration of our department in this financial year, and we believe we can overcome. The department still has a modest post establishment of 169 posts and 70 contract workers. This is another objective inhibiting factor to be addressed. R662.6 million has been allocated for the business of this department. A lot can be achieved with this allocation. At the beginning there was only R20million for DMV for three consecutive years.
“I wish to express my gratitude and confidence in the Acting-DG, Gen Mgwebi (retired) who has the benefit of exposure to the origins of some of the views which informed the framework of the DMV, in policy and in law. My appreciation also goes to the management of the Department of military veterans, the chair and members of the portfolio committee.
Minister I thank you for your cordial guidance to the work of the ministry.”