Speech by the Deputy Minister of Defence & Military Veterans: Thabang Makwetla – 2nd reading: the Military Veterans Bill
Unintentionally, the time allocated for the discussion of this Bill belies the importance of its object, because the Military Veterans Bill we are discussing this afternoon reminds us that there are among us in our communities, South Africans who during the dark days of conflict in this country, were steadfast in the believe that the penultimate honour under those circumstances was to serve their country.
As the former member of parliament, Hon. James Ngculu eloquently described them in his newly published book “The Honour To Serve”, they are individuals who believe that “Honour is stronger than death” and also that, when cornered always remember “to keep the last bullet for yourself.” On all sides, all of them as soldiers, subscribed to the dictum that absolute submission to the will of the commander was an honourable thing to do.
Today, all these patriots, in particular those from yesterdays liberation Armies because of the way they were moulded, have been shunted to the margins of our society by those they fought to free. Because, as Oliver Reginald Tambo, the leader of The largest guerrilla organization in the resistance to apartheid said, “In building up our own popular army, we aim therefore not only at the overthrow of the fascist regime, we aim also at building up a politically conscious and revolutionary army, conscious of its popular origin, unwavering in its democratic functions and guided by our revolutionary orientation.” – OR Tambo.
Conscious of the importance of the change they fought for and the sacrifice involved, many Military Veterans from the liberations armies have with humility resigned to living wretched lives to give freedom a chance.
Again as James Ngculu explains, “These were not soldiers of fortune. None were paid a salary at the end of the month because they were all volunteer fighters committed to the struggle for justice and freedom. They were guerrillas or what Che Guevara defined as social reformers who take up arms in response to the wishes of the masses.” Unquote.
Honourable members, the purpose of the Military Veteran’s Bill is to recognize and honour Military Veterans in life and memorialize them in death for their sacrifices on behalf of the Nation.
It seeks to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for Military Veterans from active military service to civilian life, it aims to restore the capability of Military Veterans with disabilities to the greatest extent possible, and to improve their quality of life and those of their dependants. The Bill envisages a system of benefits and services to Military Veterans whose cumulative effect will ensure that Military Veterans augment our national work force broadly, and contributes to the prosperity and development of the country.
Lastly, the policy espoused by the Bill recognizes that Military Veterans are a unique resource for nation–building and reconciliation which has been under–utilised.
Speaker, this intervention by government is so vital to the future and stability of this country that we must be forgiven if our frankness takes precedence over etiquette. This issue need not be surrounded by a host of technicalities and complicated reasoning, the way some career analysts and obstructionist politicians are tempted to view it.
As we speak there are destitute former freedom fighters who sleep in public places such as the Johannesburg Park Station, we are told, without comfort of a place they can call their home, hungry and cold.
This Bill is not the first legislation to deal with Military Veterans in government, nor is it the first time government acknowledges the need to support Military Veterans. The need to consider supporting the social reintegration of demobilized soldiers back into communities was raised as early as November 1993 (even before the integration process commenced), by former Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF), General Meiring at the Insitute for Defence Policy (IDP) Conference when he said, “There are a large number of individuals who have received military training of some sort and who will not be accommodated in the South African Army. To leave these individuals jobless in the streets is to invite trouble. An idea is to establish a service Brigade to accommodate and train them.” Indeed a Service Corps was established in January 1995 following the establishment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 1994. In 1999 the Department of Defence introduced a legislation, viz the 1999 Military Veterans Affairs Act to cater for Military Veterans.
Honourable members, the reason we are today piloting a new legislation through parliament, is because courageous as the intervention referred to above were, they all failed because they were inadequate, piece-meal and not holistically conceived. As a result support for Military Veterans remained adhoc, discretionary and uneven across all three spheres of government.
The Bill before the house seeks to improve the definition of beneficiaries to make it inclusive and in-line with the Constitution. Secondly, it comprehensively spells out the support and benefits which government commits itself to provide to Military Veterans and care due to their dependants. Lastly it stipulates the institutions to be established in order to realize this policy.
Honourable members, the Bill before the house has benefitted from extensive case-study work done of countries where there is support for Military Veterans in government. In this regard, work was done on both developing and developed countries, including familiarization visits to those countries which evince best practice.
Still-and-all, the final product was crafted as a home-grown instrument to deal with concrete conditions confronting us here at home, with our specific historical background and national imperatives.
In this respect, we wish to point-out that the policy contained in this Bill seeks to address the challenge of Military veterans within the national framework of care for the indigent within the broad anti- poverty strategy socially and economically. The policy enunciated in the Bill seeks to deal with the needs of Military Veterans as an investment towards the broader human resource needs of the country rather than a pure welfare programme.
The policy seeks to protect government policy on Military Veterans from being donor driven while allowing for partnerships. The Bill provides approaches to the Affairs of Military Veterans today, with the future challenges of Military Veterans in mind.
Honourable Speaker it behoves me to express on behalf of the Minister sincere appreciation for the sterling work done by members of the Portfolio Committee for the diligence and sensitivity with which they have gone about their deliberation of this Bill. We have noted some of the important views shared with the committee including the fairly popular sentiment that other veterans and stalwarts of the struggle against apartheid, besides those who were in military organizations be considered for similar support.
Honourable Members, I cannot conclude my remarks in this debate without once again conveying from the Ministry a word of appreciation to the architects of this policy, the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans for a job well done.
I thank you.
Ntime Skhosana, Deputy Minister’s Spokesperson
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