Veterans’ organisation, the South African Legion, is calling Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla to reconsider changing the definition of military veterans in the Military Veterans Bill (B1-2011) currently before Parliament.
“In statements to the Portfolio Committee on Defence on May 25, 2011, Mr Makwetla argued for the exclusion of many groups of veterans, including former National Servicemen (NSM) and also potentially other groups. The Deputy Minister made similar statements in an article in The New Age newspaper of June 9, 2011, the SA Legion said in a statement yesterday.
The Bill, as introduced in the National Assembly, defined military veterans as “any South African citizen who—
(a) rendered military service to any of the military organisations, statutory and non-statutory, which were involved on all sides of South Africa’s Liberation War from 1960 to 1994;
(b) served in the Union Defence Force before 1961; or
(c) became a member of the new South African National Defence Force after 1994,
and has completed his or her military training and no longer performs military service, and has not been dishonourably discharged from that military organisation or force…”
Makwetla last week told The New Age newspaper this excluded white conscript NSM who served in the apartheid-era SA Defence Force. “If the South African public says all white males must enjoy assistance from government, it’s a debate we must have and find justification for it. At this stage the Bill does not provide for former conscripts. For the purposes of this legislation, which is addressing the problem of social benefits for the struggling ex-soldiers, the problem is not white males,” he added.
The Council of Military Veteran Organisations of South Africa (CMVO) earlier this month also objected to the reported move. “There are many military veterans who are recognised by the current Military Veterans Act [of] 1999 who will now no-longer be military veterans,” it charged in a statement. CMVO chairman and SA Legion president Godfrey Giles said new proposed definition of has never been discussed at anytime during the public participation. “Now at the final stages of the Bill going to Parliament, the definition has changed dramatically, without consultation.” Giles said.
The CMVO added that not only ex-NSM, of whom there were about 650 000, would be afected. “According to the new proposed definition military veterans are only those that fought on a permanent basis in the liberation struggle i.e. permanent SADF, MK [uMkhonto we Sizwe] and APLA [Azanian Peple’s Liberation Army] members. This excludes Transkei, Ciskei, Boputatswana, Venda Defence Forces and AZANLA [Azanian Liberation Army] members. It will also exclude the WWI [World War One] , WWII [World War Two] and Korean War soldiers as well as the ex-SADF Coloured, black and Indian members. This is not in the interests of unifying the military veterans of South Africa,” the CMVO said.
Makwetla, in The New Age charged the CMVO wih creating “confusion” regarding the definition.
He added there were some 57 000 veterans on the state’s database derived from personnel lists submitted during the integration process that created the SANDF from the SADF, MK and APLA in the early 1990s. “He made it clear that the names of all former conscripts were not part of this list,” the paper said. “It is our view that in the long term we must generate a white paper on the military veterans,” he said, adding that this would help put the matter to rest.
Government tabled the Bill in the National Assembly in January, in order to create “a new regime for all South African military veterans, recognise the President as Patron-in-Chief; regulate benefits relating to military veterans; establish an Advisory Council on Military Veterans as well as a Military Veterans Appeal Board and provide for matters incidental thereto.”
Makwetla last November said the Bill would provide comprehensive benefits and services for veterans. “This represents a new epoch for military veterans in the history of our country,” he told journalists in Cape Town. The Bill would honour veterans and ensure a “seamless” transition from active military service to civilian life, he added. “This is a welcome development in our march to profile and restore the dignity of men and women who, at some stage of their lives, sacrificed their very being for the greater good of all, for future generations and prosperity in our country.
“It is in line with other nations of the world on how they value and treat those who are and were prepared to serve and at times pay the supreme sacrifice in pursuit of a better future for all.” The mooted benefits and support to veterans will include health care support, housing, business opportunities, military pensions, access to public transport, job placement and counselling. Access will, however, be subject to a means test. Some of these are currently available but fragmented between state departments. The Bill makes provision for a national umbrella body for veterans, the South African National Military Veterans Association and the formation of an appeals board to serve as a recourse on declined membership or eligibility to a specific benefit, Makwetla said at the time.
Makwetla added the Bill was a culmination of an intensive process of research, consultations and international benchmarking “that was led by the ministry through a task team of eminent persons with varied areas of expertise and experience.”
Veterans say the issue is the definition, not the benefits, which most ex-NSM will in any case not be eligible for because of the mooted means test.