Military veterans have been neglected since 1994, and what happened at the St George’s Hotel in Irene where Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise, her Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele were held hostage is a reflection of that.
It is worrying to see the direction we are taking as a country. This has nothing to do with ANC factional battles, but instead with the state of the country. These are people who have been neglected post-1994 when we gained our freedom and the military veterans have nothing to lose at this stage.
Thomas Sankara said, “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness”. For the veterans to resort to holding Cabinet ministers hostage shows that they are fed-up. Their issue should be high on the agenda for President Cyril Ramaphosa as it is not about ANC factional battles, but about the wellbeing of ex-combatants of the former liberation movements.
What is interesting is that Modise and Makwetla were both in exile and underwent military training. They were fortunate to get into government post-1994 while a lot of their comrades in arms continue to suffer.
This is the most embarrassing event to have happened since the dawn of our democracy and should be a wake-up call to the ANC that its deployed cadres need to put the people first. Problems in the department — which incorporated military veterans only during the tenure of former president Jacob Zuma — is the fault of the ANC-led government. Had the government established this department in 1994, we would not be where we are as a country.
One fails to understand why this department was not established earlier. We were all aware these were the military wings that operated in exile and included the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA); the PAC’s Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) Military Veterans’ Association and the Azanian National Liberation Army Military Veterans’ Association (Azanla), the military wing of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania. The ANC leadership left them behind and forgot that these people gave up their youth and left their families to take up arms to fight the brutal apartheid system.
There is a need for the ANC leadership to meet the leadership of Azapo and Apla to engage about the plight of military veterans and find consensus on how to deal with this complex problem that has been ignored for years. These people had a common vision for South Africa’s political and economic freedom. It cannot be that in 2021 they can’t sit in one room to engage about the wellbeing of military veterans. Even their children are suffering, considering the state of unemployment in South Africa. Some are unable to find jobs since they are not educated as they left school to join the Struggle.
Military veterans need to be treated equally as this threatens the security of the county as they received military training in different parts of the world. We are not safe as a nation if they can hold two ministers and a deputy minister hostage. This yet again proves that we have weak intelligence in the country, and that even after the July riots, nothing has changed. The government is exposed on a daily basis.
The ANC government has been promising people a better life for all, while it has failed the military veterans. Arresting them will not make the problems of the military veterans go away; they have families who have seen how they have suffered for years post-1994, and how only a few were absorbed into the government. How does a former liberation fighter forget about military veterans, the people who they were within the camps during difficult times?
The ANC leadership must stop with the talk show and act now as this is long overdue. The defence department must clean up its database as this is what led to the formation of the MK Council because it is alleged that some people who are not military veterans have benefited from the government, while the real ex-combatants continue to live under difficult conditions and their social welfare is not looked after by the state.
How can the ANC continue promising the people of South Africa a better life when they are on the campaign trail for votes, but is unable to deal with the issues of ex-combatants? DM
Rebone Tau is a political analyst and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL.