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Johannesburg - It cost the Department of Defence and Military Veterans R85 000 for each medal it handed out at three parades last year.
The total cost was R46 million splurged on awarding medals to 540 military veterans, at a time when many are destitute and cannot pay for their children’s education or healthcare.
This disclosure was made by the director-general in the department, Tsepe Motumi, in Parliament last week while replying to an oral question by the DA spokesman on defence and military veterans, David Maynier.
The spending was on three medal parades between August and December last year, one at Bloemspruit Air Force Base, in Bloemfontein, and two at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Tshwane.
President Jacob Zuma was at the parades, part of the 50th anniversary of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
The DA said while it was important to honour military veterans, the expense was a complete abuse of public funds, given that most of the veterans were in desperate need of basic amenities.
“More than 383 houses could have been provided to military veterans in need with the R46m. The department must get its priorities straight and begin providing real benefits to military veterans and their dependants who are in need,” said Shahid Esau, the DA’s deputy spokesman on defence and military veterans.
Departmental spokesman Mbulelo Musi defended the expenditure on Sunday, saying the military veterans’ contribution to the liberation struggle could “not be measured on monetary considerations”.
“We really think the military veterans should be honoured fittingly because of their invaluable contribution to our freedom and enhancing the development of this country,” Musi said.
While the department should prioritise socio-economic needs, “we have to start somewhere” as the veterans were dying like paupers without recognition.
He added that the awarding of medals was done in consultation with the veterans, and the department was dealing with backlogs as the veterans should have been honoured from as early as 1994.
Musi said the department was rolling out social welfare programmes to military veterans, including 505 houses, up to 500 health cards, and a R4m education grant to the veterans and their dependants in the current financial year. He said the department was also considering supporting military veterans who wanted to venture into business, and was placing about 2 000 of them in various jobs.
Meanwhile, Musi said the department would look into reports that a forensic audit report had found that leaders of the MK veterans had turned the group’s investment holding into their own personal bank.