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Johannesburg - They learnt how to shoot during the political conflicts of the 1990s, faced rubber bullets from police a decade later, battled unemployment and despair for years, and on Friday are leading their thousands of followers in their hardest battle - to court.
On Friday morning, about 9 000 members of the KwaZulu Self-Protection Forces (KZSPF) were to finally meet the state’s military authorities in the Pretoria High Court to demand their integration into the SA National Defence Force, backdated from April 27, 1994. The KZSPF wants the integration law and the exclusion of its members to be declared unconstitutional.
The SANDF has about 80 000 members, so success could expand it by about 11 percent. It’s the culmination of an 18-year fight, as the IFP-aligned self-protection units (SPUs) and ANC-aligned self-defence units (SDUs) were excluded when the SANDF was formed by integrating the old SADF, homeland militaries, the ANC’s armed wing MK and the PAC’s Apla.
Friday’s case is led by KZSPF commander Mcupheni Wiseman Mdakane, KZSPF chief of staff Zodwa Mavis Khanyile, KZSPF intelligence officer Hlengiwe Mkhize and senior officer Anna Ntshangase.
The case is against President Jacob Zuma and the defence and military veterans authorities.
Defence authorities, through the Pretoria State Attorney’s office, are opposing the case, although the affidavit outlining the opposition was filed late and the case is on the unopposed roll for on Friday.
On Tuesday, the State Attorney filed papers asking the court for condonation of the late filing of the replying affidavit, pointing out that formal notice of opposition had been filed in August, and calling for the case to be moved to the opposed court roll.
The matter was expected to be postponed on Friday and moved to the opposed roll.
The KZSPF won an important political point this week when Zuma’s office withdrew opposition to the case, saying he would abide by the court’s decision.
The military has argued that the KZSPF is years too late, that self-protection units were excluded from integration and that 2 000 KZSPF members were included in a 1996 deal.
“Their claim has prescribed,” said Johan Greyvenstein in replying papers for the state, saying it was 18 years since integration started and 11 years since it officially ended.
Greyvenstein is part of the SANDF, but this is not clear in his affidavit, so the KZSPF questioned his authority to make the affidavit. Khanyile lives in rural KZN while Mdakane and Mkhize are based in Soweto.
The Star met Mdakane, Mkhize and KZSPF member Nokwanda Mwelase this week.
None finished school due to financial difficulties; Mwelase after losing both her parents.
Mdakane didn’t finish primary school. He later got some training in bricklaying and plastering, and his eyes lit up when he described how one of his seven children is now at a university of technology and another is in matric.
Mkhize is training as a sangoma. Her small room in the dilapidated hostel is spotless and organised.
All describe how they joined the Inkatha youth brigades in the early 1990s, then went for armed training with the KZSPF in camps in rural Natal.
In the years after 1994, their hopes were repeatedly raised and then dashed as they gathered in hundreds and thousands at rural camps with the belief that they would be integrated. They described raids by police, shootings with rubber bullets and, once, real bullets, repeated arrests, and months in courts on charges of illegal gatherings that were later overturned.
Mdakane got into the 1996 incorporation offer, but wasn’t included in the final group and didn’t get a letter explaining his rejection. “I have a force number,” he said. “They failed to integrate me.”
The KZSPF case may seem an old grievance by those treated as losers by the party that beat theirs at the polls, but it’s bringing up a wider, hidden problem.
They approached labour adviser Phillip Dlamini, a retired SANDF colonel and former Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) member who went through the integration process himself and sympathises with those left out.
Dlamini spent months researching their case. That included driving around KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga - at his own expense - to find the KZSPF.
He took the list of 9 000 names compiled in the mid-1990s as his starting point and found about 8 000 of them.
On top of that, he found thousands of disaffected, abandoned people from the old armed structures, scattered around the country, many living in the direst poverty.
And many are angry at their abandonment.
“There are over 20 000 externally trained cadres - both Apla and MK - who do not feature anywhere,” says Dlamini. “But that doesn’t mean their influence and capability of training the young ones is not there. They can still do that.
“Then you have more than 30 000 internally trained - that involves the SPUs, the SDUs, Apla and MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe).”
This excludes white rightwingers.
Then there are those trained by the previous government - not the whites, but black and coloured former soldiers, those from units like Koevoet. “They are nowhere. They are bitter,” said Dlamini.
Many moved into the taxi industry, but that’s overcrowded, and many thousands have nothing.
They add to the crime problem.
“At the end of the day, he can’t starve when there’s a weapon not far. He doesn’t need to own a weapon, he knows someone with a weapon and disarms them,” said Dlamini.
He pointed to the Ekurhuleni metro as the only government entity he had found that made a real effort to address the outsiders, running programmes to include former cadres, a move he attributed to initiatives by ex-Ekurhuleni metro police department chief Robert McBride. “He gave the East Rand peace.”
After researching the size of the problem and feeling that the grievances were justified, Dlamini urged the group to approach the courts.
Dlamini found Phila Magagula, at Sekati Monyane Attorneys, who was prepared to take the case.
Now a crucial battle is funding it. The group may be destitute but they’re determined, and started, a few months ago, collecting R10 or R20 at a time.
When Mkhize’s clients pay her small amounts for her help as a sangoma, she sets aside money for the legal fund.
Mwelase, unemployed with two children, takes from her child support grants. Another member cycles to outlying areas to find honey, sells it and adds his small contribution. The elderly add from their government pensions.
Nobody wants responsibility for keeping the money due to the temptations arising from destitution, so it’s deposited in drips and drabs into the lawyer’s trust account.
Magagula said the dozens and dozens of deposits already add up to R70 000.
They’re aiming to collect at least R500 000.
“As soldiers, we have to overcome obstacles that are before us, and when the time comes, we will do so,” said Mdakane.
They said the IFP - the “mother body” - was aware of the case but was not involved.
It’s a case that illustrates the inadequacies of the integration process.
“We keep on stepping in one place and not solving the problem,” said Dlamini, warning of the dangers of leaving such problems unresolved and pointing to the Marikana massacre.
Dlamini underlines the need for a solution for the abandoned groups, and said rural KZN was constantly at boiling point.
“You expect to have a peaceful country when so many soldiers are bitter? It’s not possible.”