Military discipline is a non-negotiable in the South African National Defence Force as military personnel are not ordinary civil servants. That’s the message President Jacob Zuma communicated to serving soldiers and veterans at a Day of Reconciliation event held in the Thaba Tshwane military base town hall in Pretoria yesterday.
Zuma had been scheduled to address a parade at the military sport ground on the base but days of rain had left the fields flooded and sodden. At 10am, the set time for the parade and Air Force flypast, it was still raining heavily. Zuma, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, instead addressed an audience indoors just after noon – ironically as the weather cleared outside.
The President made it clear the government and the people of South Africa “are proud of our soldiers who through their dedication, loyalty, discipline and professionalism when deployed externally, have successfully promoted the image of our country to the international community.
For this reason, he was pleased to report that earlier this week he had “signed into law the Defence Amendment Bill which among others, provides for a dispensation that manages all the affairs of the South African National Defence Force. The new dispensation once fully implemented by government, will ensure that soldiers are accorded the status and recognised in a manner commensurate with their unique nature and the relation they have with the state, which expects them to provide national security.
“Similarly, our men and women in arms have never disappointed when called upon to discharge their duties at home in among others, saving lives of our citizens and protecting property.
Members of the SANDF have always executed government ordered commitments with distinction – without doubt proving that they are our last line of defence.
“That is why we need absolute loyalty, discipline, commitment, reliability and dependability from our defence force. These are non-negotiables. Anyone who finds these attributes too difficult to adhere to, should not be in the defence force at all,” Zuma said. “We reiterate too, that our soldiers are not ordinary civil servants who are guided by the Public Service Act. Precisely because of this unique situation of our soldiers, they require special attention which we are working on as government.
“We congratulate our soldiers for continuing to display the military discipline and dedication that is required of men and women who have joined this very unique and special service to the nation and beyond our borders too.”
Zuma also reminded of the history of December 16 and “that we were once a nation divided, whose people were at war against one another for many decades. … Very few days in our history symbolise division like the 16th of December.” But as of 1995 it is “no longer going to be a day marking and celebrating the suppression of the majority or a day of the majority marking the launch of the armed struggle against the minority regime, nor an instrument perpetuating divisions.
“We know that our forefathers who fought various wars of resistance and wars of liberation in South Africa and in other countries, did what every one of us would have done. They fought with pride, courage and dedication. They laid down their lives so that we the future generations can enjoy the freedom in a land we can proudly call our own.
“Last year we marked this day by celebrating the contribution of our military veterans and said we would work harder to promote their well-being. Today we are proud to report that we have indeed established the Department of Military Veterans, falling within the defence portfolio. Its mandate is to take care of the affairs of veterans, thus helping us to finally formalise support to our veterans.
“As we launch the department we recall that not too long ago, we were saddled with bringing together more than seven different armed forces who were sworn enemies. The country had the forces of liberation fighting to free South Africa from racist oppression on the one hand, and forces that fought to maintain the status quo and to protect the apartheid regime in its various forms on the other hand. Yet today, these former enemies are united in the South African National Defence Force, serving the nation, ensuring peace and stability.
“They are now the defenders and the protectors of our hard won democracy. Those who have opted out of the defence force also deserve our support. Some of the veterans, who fought with all they had to break the shackles of the apartheid system, are today largely destitute. They were outside the system and therefore their service and contribution is not being recognised, and they do not benefit like the others from the system through the usual service benefits.
“It is this realisation that led us to establish the Department of Military Veterans. Our definition of a military veteran is in itself a demonstration of reconciliation. We define a military veteran as a South African citizen who rendered military service to any of the military organizations which were involved on all sides of South Africa’s liberation war from 1960 to 1994. It also includes those who served in the then Union Defence Force before 1961, and those who became members of the South African National Defence Force after 1994, and have completed their military training and no longer perform military duties, and have not been dishonourably discharged from that military organisation.
“The fact that we served on opposite sides during the liberation war is history we can never change.
However, we can change the present and the future. We can and should work together to rebuild this country, with the same energy that we used to fight for freedom or to protect the apartheid status quo then. It is important that our former combatants be provided with access to socio-economic support that will enable them to adjust better to civilian life.”
Zuma added that work is already being done by government to support veterans, “on which we will be building further.” The Department of Human Settlements, for example, in collaboration with provincial governments and certain municipalities, is currently responsible for the provision of housing to military veterans through various projects. National Treasury through the Government Employees Pension Fund is responsible for providing pensions to military veterans that qualify either for the Non-Statutory Force (NSF) Pension or the Special Military Pension. The Department of Social Development provides war grants for military veterans in line with the Social Assistance Act of 2004 and the Department of Arts and Culture is responsible for the heritage of military veterans through, for example, the exhibition of the wall of Remembrance at the Freedom Park.
Pic: President Zuma addressing the SANDF in the Thaba Tshwane Town Hall