Even though the Veterans have made great sacrifices for South Africa, South Africa has not given them the most basic honour they deserve – a life of retirement in dignity. That’s the word from defence and military veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu in her second annual budget vote Tuesday.
“I was horrified to learn that the matter of the pensions due to them, that would enable them to live out their retirement in some acceptable level of comfort, had not been finalised,” she told MPs. “The agreements on their pensions, forged during the negotiation process that ushered in our democracy, and which were endorsed by successive Cabinets, have not been implemented. The basic principle of caring for our veterans has not been adhered to.
“It should be of great concern to all of us that fifteen years later, we have not honoured our commitment. I have therefore taken unconventional steps to call all my Chiefs to beg for money from their meagre budgets to fulfil this right. All of Sunday and Monday the Military Command Council met to discuss this unusual posture of a begging Minister.
“But it worked. It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce to all our Non-Statutory Force Military Veterans that we are we are now able to make adjustments in our budget to ensure we can provide you with a pension you can live on, which would come into effect on 15 May 2010. This will be implemented incrementally and the first adjustment will be done this month. On 16 May I will be available for a lunch with the NSF [non statutory forces, meaning liberation fighters] veterans – they must foot the bill! My sincerest gratitude goes to General [Godfrey] Ngwenya and his staff, as well as my advisers for making this possible.
Her deputy, Thabang Makwetla noted in his budget address that the newly established Department of Military Veterans has a “modest” budget of R20 million. He said the opening of the department’s office at the Denel campus in Irene, south of Pretoria, “heralds a new era in the history of the military in this country, especially in the lives of those who sacrificed for freedom. It is a development which brings healing to the direct beneficiaries of this programme, it also makes us all as a country, even more human, as we make a sacrifice for those South Africans who were not found wanting to sacrifice for us yesterday. They occupied the forward trenches in the unfortunate conflict which consumed so may of us.
“We now have a firm policy in government of support for military veterans. This will go a long way in restoring pride and a sense of self–worth in those who served our country and those who continue to serve our country in the military with honour. This policy will go a long way in turning military-career into an attractive option and a career of choice among young people in our country,” Makwetla continued.
He added a report containing policy recommendations for the department is being taken through cabinet. “It will shortly be presented to parliament through the Portfolio Committee [on Defence and Military Veterans]. Later in the year, on a date still to be identified, the President will officially launch the services of the new Department to beneficiaries and the public at large.
“The work done by the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans is indeed invaluable. The team evaluated several experiences on how governments provide support to military veterans. Let us remind the House that the most worse-off military veterans are those who served in liberation armies because they were without any form of remuneration. They were not gainfully employed to contribute to their pension days and the welfare of their families. It is important to indicate that it is this group in particular, which has challenges of verifying their particulars. We appreciate that this must be diligently executed to ensure that there are no legitimate cases which are left outside, to the discredit of the department, while at the same time we firmly guard against abuses.
“In its totality the veterans’ population consists of yesterday’s problem, which has grown acute because of our neglect. But we are also dealing with veterans who are going into retirement today after serving our country with honour since the SANDF was established under the new democratic dispensation in 1994. Lastly, the veterans contemplated in policy also include the new crop of SANDF members who are today, among others, performing duties as Peacekeepers outside our borders.
“From the above, it is pretty evident that with all the best practice we were exposed to in other countries, we still needed to come back home and craft a solution that addresses our perculiar concrete conditions. With everything taken into account the new policy objectives, are aimed at:-
Recognising and honouring all military veterans in life and to memorialise them in death for their sacrifice on behalf of the nation,
To ensure a smooth and seamless transaction of military veterans from active service to civilian life;
To restore individual’s lost capabilities, to the greatest extent possible;
To improve the quality of life of veterans and that of their dependants;
Lastly, to ensure that military veterans are harnessed for reconciliation and nation building.
“It became evident quite early in our assignment that to achieve the above goals we would be obliged to repeal the current legislation, in particular the Military Veterans Affairs Act, Act 17 of 1999 and to amend other pieces of legislation which are administered by other departments from which Military Veterans receive other forms of support from government. These include the Housing Act, Act 107 of 1997; The National Health Act, Act 61 of 2003, and The Social Assistance Act, Act 13 of 2004, to cite but a few.
Makwetla said an important overriding consideration of the proposed policy is to ensure that the solution to the problem of military veterans is located and informed by mainstream government policies in order for it to be sustainable. As a result the proposed benefits are aligned to government socio-economic and political policy strategies e.g. they are in synch with government social sector anti-poverty strategies, and the economic development strategies including skills development to cite but a few examples. The other key policy alignment task which must still be honed is to bring the recommendations in line with the Human Resource Policy of the Department of Defence, so that it is seamlessly factoring the needs of its members at different stages of their lives without leaving them vulnerable at any point in their life-cycle.”
The deputy minister added tat the recommendations before cabinet, “are wide-ranging and will hopefully be well received by all. Every proposed benefit was thoroughly debated taking into account best practices elsewhere but always guided by the domestic concrete material circumstances pertaining to suitability, alignment issues and affordablilty. These issues range from tax matters to job- placement versus pensions debate.
Makwetla says the department will this year work on consolidating South Africa’s data-base of military veterans and their dependants; establish work streams to detail the policy proposals and operational delivery models. “It is envisaged that whereas this will essential be a national department, it will have provincial offices which interface with provinces in such a way that provinces can also augment these budgets where they are able to. To improve accessibility, it is anticipated that regional offices in different provinces will be established as resources become available.”