The Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans held a consultative seminar Friday to solicit public input into the Draft Policy Report on the future of the state’s role and obligations towards the country’s roughly estimated 20 000 military veterans.
The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans has already announced plans for creating a separate budget vote and appointing an accounting officer to be responsible for Veterans Affairs.
The task team, under the chairmanship of Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla has been working since July on drafting policy guidelines and proposed statutory amendments with regard to the governance of military veterans affairs.
mbers included former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni, Kebby Mphatsoe, Colonel Godfrey Giles and Major General Kenny Fihla.
The team’s terms of reference included developing recommendations on how the newly configured Department of Defence and Military Veterans will be designed and constituted following the Presidential promulgation of the department of defence to include the veterans affairs.
It is expected to wind up its work and present a final report to minister Lindiwe Sisulu this week.
Military veterans are citizens who were involved in the historical conflicts of the past, including survivors of World War 2, Korea and the recent anti-colonial and apartheid conflicts.
The public sem
inar was held Friday at the St George’s Hotel in Pretoria.
Providing input were the Institute for Security Studies, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the sector education and training authorities in the security and services industries, relevant university departments, veterans associations, public sector departments that are currently providing services to veterans (Social development and Human Settlement, among others) and other interested participants.
Makwetla told the Saturday Star that neglecting military veterans could “drive them underground or even into insurrection.”
He said they needed to be taken care of “not only because the personal sacrifices they made but because they could offer their services as renegade force against the state or use their professional killing skills in criminal activities.”
“If today they become estranged from this change they fought for … they would then be politically positioned in a way that is not supportive of what we have today. It will cause political disenchantment.”
Makwetla was previously premier of Mpumalanga province that was in September rocked by violent service delivery protests cum demonstrations against public service corruption.
“Neglect may also bring about a situation where you have people resorting to the only skill they have in life which is professional killing… and (may)present a problem to the country in respect to the rise in crime.”
Proposed veterans’ rights include free houses, subsidised medical care, education and other financial benefits.
Democratic Alliance defence and military veterans shadow minister David Maynier last week expressed concern at the team’s work after what he described as a lacklustre briefing to the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans.
He said the team could provide no guidance and the size of the veterans community or the cost to the taxpayer of planned services and benefits. However, many of these services and benefits already exist. Veterans are entitled to so-called “RDP houses”, state healthcare and a veterans’ pension.
According to The Sowetan former uMkhonto we Sizwe military intelligence chief and current Chief of Army Reserves Major General Keith Mokoape told that briefing the aim of the new dispensation was to bring all South Africans with a military background “into the system” and bring the various services and benefits under one roof.
“This would prevent military veterans from being forced into situations where they had to “sell their skills to the highest bidder”, Mokoape said.
The task team defined a military veteran as any “South African citizen who served before 1994 in military formations on both sides of the conflict” including members of the apartheid army who retired after 1994.
Benefits will be given based on a needs assessment (how poor the veteran is), their degree of involvement – whether they were imprisoned during the struggle, how long they fought for and if they suffered any disability.
Makwetla said the government also wanted to set up a dedicated organisation within the government with resources to deal with veteran activists who were “just as destitute” as military veterans.
Looking after military veterans only would make the activists’ conditions “stick out like a sore thumb”, Makwetla said.
Pic: A World War Two veteran inspecting the ranks of the Transvaal Scottish, an Army Reserve regiment that served with distinction in that conflict, fielding three battalions.