Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma during the National Day of Reconciliation celebrations and launch of the Military Veterans Department at Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria
16 December 2010
The Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile,
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu,
The Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
Mayor of Tshwane, Mr Sputla Ramakgopa
Fellow South Africa,
We extend warm greetings on this very important day in our national calendar.
The 16th of December reminds us that we were once a nation divided, whose people were at war against one another for many decades.
On this day we celebrate that we were able to work together as opposing sides to resolve our challenges and agreed to build peace and usher in a human rights-based democracy founded on the values of unity in diversity.
Very few days in our history symbolise division like the 16th of December.
You will recall that until 1948, this day was observed as “Dingaan’s Day”, marking the annihilation of the Boers by Zulu King Dingane.
After 1949, the National Party government decided to use this day to legitimize apartheid.
The so-called Dingaan’s Day became the Day of the Covenant and in 1980 the national Party regime renamed it the Day of the Vow.
You will recall also that this is the day on which the African National Congress launched its armed wing Umkhonto Wesizwe.
In 1995, a year after South Africa had elected its first non racial and democratic government led by the ANC, the day was given a new meaning as the Day of Reconciliation.
It was 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.
It must be a day dedicated to unity and reconciliation.
Government built Freedom Park as a monument to our long road to true democracy and freedom, reminding us of all the wars and conflicts we had gone through, to reach this stage of peace, stability, democracy and progress.
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 organization.
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.
There is work that is already being done by government to support veterans, on which we will be building further:
? The Department of Human Settlements, 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.
? 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.
? Also relating to heritage, the Department of Defence, together with the Departments of Public Works as well as Arts and Culture are involved in the maintenance of the heritage of fallen Liberation War heroes in Kaweweta, Uganda.
I mention these, in order to point out that the Department of Military Veterans cannot deal with this issue on its own.
Other government departments, including the private sector, have a role to play in the empowerment of our heroes and heroines.
Fellow South Africans,
This week I 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.
As government and the people of South Africa we 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.
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.
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.
The 16th of December was designated as a National Day of Reconciliation so that our future generations, Black and White, could learn from the experiences of their forefathers.
We did this so that our children and their children could live in peace, side by side, and enjoy their cultural diversity in peace and dignity.
We have fought great wars in defence of our land and dignity.
But we must learn from these wars. Wars destroy families, wars impoverish nations. Wars bring grief and untold suffering to both the victors and the vanquished.
That is why we are building a defence force that has become known all over the continent as a force for peace and goodwill.
This is in line with the general nature of our nation – a nation that is at peace with itself and its neighbours.
Through commemorations like the one we are having today, each and every one of us can now play a vital role in reinforcing these values of peace, reconciliation, justice and human rights.
We wish you all the best during the festive season and a successful 2011 which surpasses the achievements of the outgoing year.
I thank you.