Former Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s ambitious plan to bring military veterans back into the mainstream of South African society took another step forward today with the handover of houses to former combatants in North West.
The houses, at Kraaipan in the Ratlou local municipality about 70km from Mafikeng, are the first to be built using an allocation of R300 million from the National Treasury expressly to assist veterans. All told, the Department of Military Veterans (DMV) plans to build 504 houses in the current financial year.
In a statement released prior to today’s handover, Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla stressed the definition of a military veteran was “all encompassing”. It includes all former soldiers of the then SA Defence Force, TBVC states (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei), Umkhonto we Sizwe, Apla and Azanla.
The handover of the first two houses to World War II veterans Phillip Sebopelo (94) and Jacob Modiselle (97) follows parades last year where SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, honoured veterans at special medal parades held in Bloemfontein and Pretoria.
In addition to medals and housing, the DMV is also planning to assist veterans with the acquisition of skills to make them either employable or able to set up their own businesses, assist with education and provide other benefits with regard to burial insurance, free healthcare, free public transport and the erection of suitable memorials to honour the contributions made by veterans.
According to the Military Veterans Act, a military veteran is “any South African citizen who rendered military services to any of the military organisations, which were involved on all sides of South Africa’s liberation war from 1960 to 1994; those who served in the then Union Defence Force before 1961; and those who became members of the SANDF after 1994 onwards, and has completed his or her military training and no longer performs military duties, and has not been dishonourably discharged from that respective military organisation.”
Thousands of veterans have registered their particulars with the DMV following promulgation of the Act in 2011. One verification of veteran status event took place in Johannesburg earlier this year but the department has not yet made any announcement as to the exact number of veterans on its database. It has also not indicated the status of the means test that veterans have to comply with in order to qualify for benefits as set out in the Act.