South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu this morning received what her office is calling a “much awaited report on the plight and the state’s obligations towards military veterans.”
The report was compiled by a task team appointed by Sisulu last July, following “the reconfiguration of the Department of Defence to include the aspect of military veterans as part of governments new service delivery responsibilities.”
The country has an estimated 20 000 living military veterans, including survivors of World War Two and Korea.
The task team, headed by her deputy, Thabang Makwetla,was tasked to advise her and Cabinet on “how the new administration can assist or empower this constituency as part of recognition for the sacrifices they have made to bring about democracy and freedom in our lifetime.”
Team members included former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni, Major General Kenny Fihla, Colonel Godfrey Giles, and Kebby Mphatsoe.
A defence media statement says the task team did a desktop analysis of how various post-conflict countries “successfully integrated former opposing military factions into the mainstream of society’s development and civil life as former soldiers of different backgrounds.”
International visits to Algeria and Canada were also undertaken in order to contextualise the contrast between developing and developed nations with regard to benefits and support for military veterans.
“Subsequently, an all-encompassing workshop of all former soldiers of liberation armies – MK [uMkhonto we Sizwe], APLA [Azanian People’s Liberation Army] and AZANLA [Azanian Liberation Army], erstwhile TVBC [Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei) states armies and the former SADF [SA Defence Force] members was held to solicit inputs into the draft report.
The final report consists of policy recommendations with regard to benefits such as empowerment, education and training, pension benefits, housing and health support. The report also supports the decision for the creation of a separate budget vote and an accounting officer for military veterans affairs.
The report notes that there has been various fragmented support for military veterans and accordingly makes a case for a nationwide integrated policy framework for all levels of the state (national, provincial, municipal) to use as a guideline in the provision of benefits and, more importantly, the reconstruction role that military veterans can contribute in skills development, preservation of heritage, and promotion of national reconciliation.
Makwetla last year 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.”
Democratic Alliance defence and military veterans shadow minister David Maynier in November 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.
Picture: Two veterans of World War Two laying flowers at the Centotaph in Johannesburg on Remembrance Sunday, 2007.