The Namibia War Veterans Trust says it has registered nearly 20 000 former members of the pre-independence South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF) and the South West Africa Police Counter Insurgency Unit (Koevoet) as they prepare to press the South African government further for the payment of war compensation and benefits.
The South Africa Defence Force’s (SADF’s) Territorial Force, which was made up of Namibia’s San, Khoi-Khoi, Nama, Kavango, Ovambo and Herero tribesmen, battled against the guerilla forces of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) inside Namibia while the Koevoet force played a leading role in the SADF’s engagement inside Namibia and externally in Angola. Both units were disbanded following South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia when it attained independence in 1990.
Namibia War Veterans Trust (NWVT) executive director Ndeunyema Jabulani said they want to complete the process of registering an estimated 25 000 Namibians who fought in the two units of the SADF before they renew pressure for their compensation by the South African government. He said veterans registration teams, which began work in April, have registered more than 20 000 ex-combatants in Otjozondupa, Oshana, Erongo, Khomas, Kunene and Kavango regions and are set to proceed to Karas, Hardap and Omaheke.
Ndeunyema said Namibian ex-combatants feel that South Africa’s Veterans Act is discriminatory because it provides only for the compensation of South Africans who fought under the SWAPO’s People Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
“We are registering all Namibians who fought under the South African government because the colonial master left without compensating us. One cannot be part of the war without being rewarded financially and materially, hence our demand for compensation from the South African government. We had a meeting with the [Namibian] Minister of Veteran Affairs last year and he told us that the Veterans Act does not recognize us because we were ‘cowardly collaborating with the enemy’. The Minister said the Act only recognizes those who consistently and persistently contributed to the liberation of Namibia,” said Ndeunyema.
“I find the law to be discriminatory and in contradiction with the policy of national reconciliation – a far cry from what is happening in other countries such as Angola and South Africa. In such countries ex-fighters from opposing sides are treated equally,” he complained.
NWVT chairman Jan Jaars said the registration of ex-combatants comes after discussions with the South African government. He was advised to form a legal organisation (NWVT) to negotiate on behalf of Namibian combatants under the former South African regime.
The drive for recognition and possible compensation of the SADF’s former soldiers suffered yet another blow last month when the South African High Court ruled that apartheid-era soldiers from indigenous groups, which include South Africans and Namibians, cannot be considered for re-integration into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The judgement is also set to affect South African Khoi and San ex-members of Koevet and other ex-SADF units who are already serving in the SANDF – a move which has been criticised by rights groups as deeply discriminatory.
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) described High Court Judge Moses Mavundla’s ruling as “extremely unfortunate since it perpetuates an unfair characterisation of the Khoi and San soldiers who were part of the SANDF prior to 1994 as being guilty of complicity with the apartheid regime, and therefore deserving of retribution and reprisal.”
“Not only does this ignore the extreme marginalisation and vulnerability of the San, and the fact that the Apartheid state did not offer people from these communities any real choice in the matter, but it also does not account for the differential treatment given to former soldiers in the homeland armies, white conscripts and the Oshiwambo recruits drafted into the notorious Koevoet unit in Namibia – many of whom have found a place in the new SANDF,” the society said.
An estimated 14 000 San and Khoi ex-soldiers of the SADF who have been campaigning for re-integration into the army since independence in 1994 are now reported to be living in abject poverty around Platfontein and Schmidtsdrift, having been abandoned first by the apartheid-era army and of late, the new SANDF.
“Judge Moses Mavundla expressed some sympathy with their plight but the tone of his judgment is remarkably patronising – describing the Khoi and San soldiers as “pitiable”, “myopic” and “politically naïve” – and deeply problematic. Perhaps it is for this reason that he does not interrogate the apparent discrimination and unfairness of the decision to force these soldiers to vacate their employment with the SANDF in favour of not only the former liberation movements’ armed wings, but also the homeland armies that helped to prop up apartheid,” the OSISA said.
The judge argued that the San and Khoi combatants who were left out of the forces integration project could no longer be accommodated in the SANDF because legally, the process ended with the enactment of the Termination of Integration Intake Act of 2001. However, he noted that the ex-combatants have cause for redress and called on the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans to address these “in the spirit of the constitution.”
The Koevoet force served alongside the SADF’s 5 Recce company in intelligence gathering and counter-insurgency combat operations in Namibia between 11 January 1979 and 12 January 1990 under the command of Major General Sterk Hans Dreyer. From its overall command base in Oshakati in northern Namibia, the Koevoet commando also conducted hot-pursuits and staged cross-border raids deep into Southern Angola to destroy the logistics and training bases of PLAN guerillas. The majority of its Namibian members were recruited in tribal areas and sent to the unit’s military training school in Ondangwa.