After getting away nearly scot-free from their role in the July violence and looting, which claimed 357 lives and took South Africa to the knife edge of racial war, the RET faction of the ANC and its aligned military vets were back in action this week.
Under the guise of a national prayer meeting for former president Jacob Zuma on October 14, the re-mobilisation of the RET forces was evident at the Peoples Park in Durban.
Zuma signalled the start of the faction’s campaign to win back power at the party’s national elective conference in 2022. A few hours later, military veterans held Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele and Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla hostage.
The police’s special task force, headed by General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, had to be deployed to free the ministers after the veterans represented by spokesperson Lwazi Mzobe barricaded doors at the St George Hotel in Irene, Pretoria.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and his executive have downgraded what he called an “insurrection” in July to a political storm. In nearly 100 days, the government has refused to provide further details on what has happened to the police statement that 12 instigators would be jailed for the violence. In a week in July, 150,000 jobs were placed at risk, GDP took a R50-billion knock and South Africa’s sovereign political risk rating was raised.
Only RET foot soldiers like student activist Bonginkosi Khanyile, the former uKhozi FM DJ Ngizwe Mchunu and the social media firebrand ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’, whose name is Zamaswazi Zinhle Majozi, have been arrested.
The government has backtracked on firm action promised in the immediate aftermath of the July violence and looting because the political stakes are too high. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal officially opposed Ramaphosa’s classification of the events as an ‘insurrection’. He is dependent on the province for a second term as ANC president and Cabinet’s security cluster has since been on a go-slow to investigate and prosecute the violence. His inaction appears to have emboldened the RET faction for whom military veterans are a vital constituency.
The hostage-takers are organised into a relatively new structure called the “Liberation Struggle War Veterans”, which staged a sleep-in at the ANC Luthuli House headquarters earlier in the week. Spokesman Lwazi Mzobe is employed by the eThekwini Municipality from which some key organisers of the July violence were drawn, as reported here.
Military vets have an R654-million annual budget and many benefits.
South Africans liberation movement veterans are well-treated and have an entire department dedicated to them. This year, the Department of Military Veterans have a budget of R654-million to fund compensation for injury, trauma and disease, counselling and treatment, healthcare, housing and burial support in addition to cash compensation to veterans. Various programmes provide health and wellness, education, housing, empowerment and skills development to 40,892 veterans. Provincial governments prioritise veterans for houses, education and healthcare, and they are regularly included in regional tenders.
In the past year, 643 veterans received counselling and treatment, 163 veterans got ‘business access’, 900 received skills development opportunities and 477 acquired houses, according to the Department’s annual report. Mzobe told reporters that the veterans each wanted R2.2-million in reparations for their role in liberating South Africa.
Deputy President David Mabuza heads a Presidential Task team on Military Veterans, and the protestors said they barricaded the two ministers and deputy minister inside the hotel because they wanted to meet him personally.
In August 2021, the Military Veterans Department suspended four staff pending an investigation into R124-million in wasteful, irregular and fruitless expenditure. The Department also spends 59% of its budget on staff, but most are veterans themselves.
In a media briefing on October 15, Modise and Gungubele sought to downplay the hostage drama and instead highlighted the government’s programmes for military veterans. DM