Debate On The Military Veterans Bill
Remarks By Mr AM Mncwango MP


 

National Assembly, Cape Town: Tuesday, 16 August 2011 

 

 

Honourable Speaker:

 

South Africa had several leading figures and role-players during our transition from apartheid to democracy. Some of these role-players included the Inkatha Freedom Party, AZAPO, the Pan African Congress, the African National Congress, and many others. Our freedom today belongs to all of us, and it is owing to the collective efforts of all of these organizations that we are fortunate to live in a free South Africa today.

 

It was with this in mind that we welcomed the restructuring of the Department of Defence, to include Military Veterans, in 2009. We welcomed the allocation of funds to those who dedicated their lives to the struggle for freedom. The restructuring of this Department heralded in a new era, in which we would finally recognize and honour the selfless contributions made by many fellow patriots in bringing about the realization of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous South Africa. The IFP welcomed this development as step towards intensifying our reconciliation and nation-building efforts.

 

However, today the IFP remains disillusioned as the proposed Bill has not lived up to its expectations. We continue to lament the exclusion of some groups from accessing the benefits that are rightly due to them.

 

In a statement to the Portfolio Committee on Defence on May 25, 2011, the Deputy Minister Mr Makwetla argued for the exclusion of many groups of veterans, including former National Servicemen and potentially other groups.

 

However, in June of this year, Mr Makwetla said that the Bill was clear in that it was dealing with former soldiers in the ex-South African Defence Force, liberation movement armies and ex-armies of Bantustan states. Mr Makwetla explained that the Bill was very clear about who was eligible to apply for benefits once the proposed law has been passed.

 

However, this has not been our experience. There has been mass confusion as to who is and who is not regarded as a military veteran. It is our understanding that the erstwhile KwaZulu Self-Protection Units (SPUs) as well as the ANC-aligned Self Defence Units (SDUs) will be excluded from receiving benefits as proposed by this Bill.

 

The IFP has never accepted violence as a tool for political or social liberation and therefore had no military wing like umKhonto weSizwe. However, the erstwhile KwaZulu Government established SPUs in response to the ruling party's People's War, which saw the murder of many IFP councillors and members. SPUs were never part of the apartheid machinery, but were often used to protect social assets. The men and women that formed part of these SPUs worked diligently for the establishment of conditions that would make a peaceful and negotiated settlement possible. These SPUs are military veterans too, as they were a part of a section of the South African community that was involved in waging and resolving the political conflicts of our past. There is therefore no logical justification for not including the SPUs.

 

In conclusion, I would like to remember my dear friend Siegfried "Gobogobo" Bhengu. Siegfriend passed away recently. He was a former member of the ANC and later the IFP. He was part of the first group of MK cadres who left the country in the early 60s, to receive military training in various countries in Africa, as well as in Russia. He was amongst the first detachments of MK that were infiltrated back into the country at the height of apartheid. He was later arrested and spent 10 years at Robben Island, with the former President Nelson Mandela, Mr Walter Sisulu, baba Andrew Mlangeni and many others. Upon release from prison he served another 10 year banishment order in terms of which he was confined to his rural Nkandla homestead. He and his family members suffered many hardships. Today, his family lives in abject poverty and has not enjoyed any financial benefit for his commitment to the struggle for liberation.

 

Most veterans' welfare is, and continues to be a matter of concern. Many still face challenges that range from unemployment, limited skills capabilities, and access to special grants and health facilities. While this Bill has, as one of its aims, that of improving the quality of life of military veterans and of their dependants, my friend Siegfried's family can only live in hope that they too will one day receive financial assistance.

 

It is my plea today that the Department gives special attention to this matter.

 

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans has a pivotal role to play in a post-apartheid South Africa. It can unite individuals across the political divide; it can promote unity and nation-building, and by ensuring that military veterans are regarded as a valuable resource, to enhance the national work force, it can contribute to the prosperity and development of this country.

 

Honourable Speaker, the IFP will support this Bill, but we want to send a clear message to the Department of Defence and Military Veterans today, that we will no longer allow discrimination on the basis of political affiliation. We demand justice for all those who fought for freedom. Not only those aligned to the ANC.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Mr Albert Mncwango MP, 083 448 4896.