Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Shahid Esau says defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will have to answer to Parliament for a shambolic military veterans registration drive and the confusion it has caused among affected members of the South African public.
“Today is the deadline for the completion of the military veterans registration process initiated by the Department of Military Veterans. Military veterans need to be registered in order to be able to later apply for benefits, subject to a poverty means test.
“On a visit yesterday to one of the registration points, Fort iKapa in Goodwood, I discovered that registration at that site had been closed on June 17. This is almost a full month before the deadline for registration. I was also informed that registration would be opening again from July 16-27. This information has not been distributed by the Department and has served to create further confusion for military veterans and their families,” Esau said.
“It seems that similar problems have been experienced at registration points across the country.”
This process has been characterised by a range of problems, including a lack of a clear public awareness campaign. “Apart from the television campaign, there has been little else done to provide military veterans with information,” Esau says. There has also been a complete lack of communication from the department, as well as the listed contact personnel, when veterans tried to contact it for information and no steps were taken, such as the establishment of a centralised call centre, to manage the large number of queries from members of the public;
confusion regarding the information military veterans had to supply at registration points in order to register.
“Members of the public who tried to register have reported that they were asked for their force numbers – however, members of the liberation forces (MK, APLA and AZAPO) were never issued a force number, so would have been unable to register. The department has described this registration process as a “staggered approach”, and has said that there will be more registration dates. However, Parliament needs to investigate how the Minister could have allowed this process to be so poorly handled, and why her department failed repeatedly to provide military veterans and their families with the basic information they required.”
The Department aims to register or re-register around 55 000 military veterans. Reports indicate that only 20 000 names have been captured since the process began, Esau says. This number includes the first phase of registration from earlier this year.
Esau says the department at the end of May called on all those listed on the military veterans’ database to register or re-register. “This includes all those who served in the statutory and liberation forces as well as their dependents. Those who had not registered during the previous integration process in 1994 were also asked to register,” Esau said.
“Poor advertising on behalf of government and a lack of clear explanations as to the purpose of this registration process have led to confusion and frustration for many military veterans. Many veterans are under the impression that they will be receiving benefits after they have completed this registration, but this is not the case. The department [of Military Veterans] has yet to clarify how benefits will be rolled out and the means test which will be used to determine who will qualify for benefits.
“The department was supposed to establish provincial offices by the end of June. This process has not been completed and would have gone a long way toward assisting the military veterans with the correct information,” Esau said.
“The poor management of this process by the department has incubated serious misinformation and a number of scams in which vulnerable individuals are being exploited. Consequently, many veterans have either failed to register or have the false expectation that registration will necessarily result in benefits being received.
Defence department (DoD) spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini last week said veterans wishing to register should report to their nearest military base where they will be assisted. Veterans of all colours and backgrounds can eventually qualify for the benefits. The benefits may include housing, health care, access to public transport, job placements, business support, burial support, honour or memorialisation, education and skills development amongst others, according to the Military Veterans Bill passed by Parliament last year.
The aim of the law and benefits is to assist destitute veterans, Beeld warned, adding that registration did not imply veterans necessarily qualified for any benefits. A means test will be used to determine whether the veteran applying is working or has an income. His or her assets will also be considered.
Dlamini further told the paper the precise nature and scope of the benefits veterans will receive, as well as the regulations in terms of which payments will be made has not yet been promulgated. Veterans can phone 012 671 1015 for help.
Ntime Skhosana, speaking for Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla on Friday afternoon said Esau’s characterisation of the registration process as chaotic “is grossly exaggerated, misleading and most unfortunate because it stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming response we continue to receive from the community of military veterans across the country.
“The recent call by the Democratic Alliance is therefore not borne out of objective considerations but just a misguided political urge to cause misplaced panic and unnecessary confusion,” Skhosana said.
“Firstly, the [deputy Minister] has always maintained since the pilot project started last year in November, that the registration and update of demographic profiles of former soldiers is an open ended process that will be on going until the Department of Military Veterans has uploaded and reached all qualifying military veterans. The process will continue for as long as there are veterans or their next of kin who want to register, verify and update their biographical data.
“We urge the military veterans community to register as there will be no military veterans who will access benefits without due registration,” he added.
“We furthermore call upon the military veterans community not to despair but to continue to register in various areas as stipulated in media advertisement. The department has, as part of the original plan, adopted a comprehensive but flexible registration process that will never be considered closed until every military veteran in the country is fully registered. Part of the plan includes the establishment of a call centre to ease communication challenges that arise as the process unfolds.”