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At last, war veterans have reason to smile

Resource type: News

Business Day (South Africa) |

Original Source

These developments are a direct result of the work of Atlantic’s grantee, the National Peace Accord Trust who have worked together with the Umkhonto We Sizwe Veterans Association to win the support of the Zuma administration for veterans needs.

RAYMOND Fihla steps into Ray’s Butchery, the business in Soweto he has been running for 18 months.

“It’s a battle; to be in business is something else,” he says. But these days, in the squeaky-clean establishment, popular with weekend revellers out for a braai, the chairman of the Azania People’s Liberation Army (Apla) military veterans has reason to be optimistic.

For military veterans have been among the biggest winners since the April general election.

While they did not get their own ministry as they had hoped, the Department of Defence and Military Veterans’s new name signals a departure from the time when veterans, especially from the liberation armies, lived a marginal existence.

Last month the department announced the formation of a task team, headed by Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla, that would, over the next three months, recommend structures and policies governing veterans’ affairs.

Discussion is also under way on a separate budget vote and accounting officer, possibly a director-general, for veterans’ affairs.

“It’s been a long struggle for us to convince the government that we need a structure concentrating on veterans,” Fihla says.

The turning point came when the African National Congress (ANC) resolved at its Polokwane conference in late 2007 to take on the veterans’ concerns, acknowledging that many were unemployed, and had few skills or access to welfare.

Many were too young to benefit from a special pension provided to those over 35 at the time of integration into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“We have a large number of our members that are destitute and roaming the streets,” says Fihla.

However, the task team has its work cut out . It has to reconcile the disparate interests of the former liberation armies and the Council of Military Veterans Organisations (CMVO) representing more than 50000 members, including former soldiers of the South African Defence Force (SADF).

CMVO chairman Godfrey Giles questions the ministry’s failure to revive the advisory board on veteran affairs, which is provided by the law.

Like Fihla, he is also concerned that the task team has more military representatives than the veterans, who have only two. “With all due respect, the military have not taken care of veterans,” says Giles. The current Directorate for Military Veterans’ Affairs is seen as ineffectual.

Ayanda Dlodlo, secretary-general of the Mkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), says just as important is creating a structure that will tap into the skills of veterans, encompassing former members of the SADF and Bantustan armies.

The definition of military veteran also encompasses those who took part in the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War.

“There is a depth of skills that lie at the level of military veterans that the state is not tapping into,” says Dlodlo, also President Jacob Zuma’s parliamentary liaison.

The first task for the department could be to embark on an audit of the numbers involved and the extent of their needs, which the liberation associations have been unable to do for lack of resources. It is estimated there may be more than 4000 Apla and 20000 MKMVA members, excluding family members, among the possible beneficiaries.

Support for SA’s veterans is expected to see attention being given to conditions like mental ill-health, which many veterans may not be aware they have.

“In any other country that has been at war, post-traumatic stress disorder is regarded as a disability and people get a disability grant for that,” says Dlodlo.

In addition to housing, veterans are banking on the state for land, and for economic opportunities.

“As you have your BEE policy you should have a policy that relates to economic opportunity for war and military veterans,” says Dlodlo.

She singles out Algeria’s military veterans support programme as worth looking at. “The military veterans in Algeria have got a political programme that is supported by the state; a political programme that also supports the state,” she says.

Some could say the Algerian programme is controversial as it sees veterans as an extension of the state, blurring the line between veterans and government.

Dlodlo rules out any assistance for SA’s mercenaries, many of whom have recently been working in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, who she says are breaking the law.

But CMVO secretary-general Rear Admiral Lucas Bakkes says the legal framework is ambiguous. “The legislation is complex and not fully operational,” he says.

Giles says if these former servicemen, estimated at up to 10000, are not given work upon returning to SA, they may be tempted to use their skills to commit crime.

“What we’re looking for is that the military veterans need to be assisted to get on a commercial footing, and not ask for hand-outs,” Giles says.

MARGINALISED: Former members of the ANC’s military wing, Mkhonto we Sizwe, on parade. The Department of Defence and Military Veterans has set up a task team to look at new structures governing war veterans’ affairs. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI (Business Day)

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