Fund to help veterans launch businesses


Military veterans will soon get their own investment arm – similar to the now defunct Umsobomvu Youth Fund – which will offer loans and guidance to veterans who are budding entrepreneurs.

In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla revealed an admittedly “ambitious” plan which seeks to provide access to healthcare, housing, education, burial support and business opportunities to veterans who were on both sides of the apartheid conflict, as well as in wars in service of the republic.

According to Makwetla, there are an estimated 57 000 military veterans, and the department has anticipated that the majority will need some sort of assistance. “The biggest population are those aged 40, but you also have a good number who are just in their 30s,” Makwetla says. “It is very ambitious. But it is a problem that has been neglected for too long.”

One of the most complex interventions the newly established Department of Military Veterans will undertake is the creation of a “special purpose vehicle” which will invest in projects on behalf of veterans, in order to provide loans and training to those with business ideas. “The special purpose vehicle should be able to do several things. First, it must be able to amass financial resources that can be at the disposal of military veterans. It’s got to be able to build up funds from which veterans who want to go into business can borrow.”

The initial start-up capital is intended to originate from the department, which will receive a separate budget from the Treasury. An amount of R1.6 billion has been set aside for use over the next three years for all projects undertaken by the Department of Military Veterans. Makwetla is confident the special purpose vehicle, which can be likened to the government investment vehicle Umsobomvu Youth Fund, will be able to generate its own income, the Sunday broadsheet reports.
“There are all kinds of big opportunities that are embarked, and military veterans will be invited to be part of them. For instance, there will be syndicates and groups that say, ‘we have put a bid in for this casino licence and we want military veterans to be part of us’. The special purpose vehicle should be able, on behalf of veterans, to be a shareholder in that casino, and the money would be made available to groups and individuals who seek capital for their enterprises.”

The body would also provide training for veterans who need help putting together business proposals. “The special purpose vehicle must be able to co-ordinate this. It may not provide the training itself but must be able to have some sort of service level agreement… with any agency in the government that is able to assist people who want to be entrepreneurs.”

Among the department’s priorities is the provision of health care and housing for indigent veterans.

The department has already been providing treatment for veterans over 60 and “military veterans who have intense ailments that require intense care. They did not have access before. We are doing this because it is urgent. We don’t have the money as yet but we started last year in December to provide this benefit. As soon as we get the money, health will be the first benefit we will prioritise for all military veterans,” Makwetla says.

Each benefit will have a means test, which will be decided on by working groups comprised of staff from the Department of Military Veterans and officials from other departments such as housing, social services and transport. The plan could also see indigent soldiers receiving free public transport through a coupon or ID card system funded by the veterans’ department.

In addition to conducting “desktop research” on how developed and developing countries treat their veterans, officials and researchers visited the US and Algeria. The department decided against the approach of a number of other African countries, whose veteran programmes are largely funded by the World Bank through the Multi-Country Great Lakes Demobilisation and Reintegration Project.
“As a result the World Bank is a very important stakeholder in deciding on policy for military veterans in those countries. We have come up with a policy that is an entirely South African product. The resources we intend spending are the country’s government resources,” he said.

Manwhile, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has told warring factions of its military veterans association to stop fighting as Luthuli House cannot “babysit” them forever, the Sunday Times reports. The Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Military Veterans Association is in turmoil with two groupings accusing each other of corruption and enriching themselves at the expense of former guerrillas.

One of the groups, led by former MK commander Alex Mashinini, wants the current MKMVA executive – led by Kebby Maphatsoe and Ayanda Dlodlo – disbanded. The two groups met ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe last week on Monday.

Motlanthe told the two sides to sort out their differences. “He told us that the ANC cannot babysit MKMVA forever and that the party has many other issues to deal with and that we should not be bringing more problems to the party,” said an association member who was at the meeting.

The meeting was convened after Mashinini’s group approached the police to probe fraud and corruption allegations against association leaders. This relates to R7 million which they say is missing from the books. The group alleges that about R2 million of this money ended up in the personal bank accounts of current leaders.