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Founding members of MK, the ANC’s former military wing, received military service medals from President Jacob Zuma yesterday.
“Many have been inspired by the veterans of the past,” Zuma told a military parade and guests at the Bloemspruit Air Force Base.
It was the first medal parade to be held since the inception of the Department of Military Veterans.
Zuma said all the veterans honoured had made huge sacrifices for the present generation to enjoy freedom.
The parade was dedicated to MK’s commanders and fighters of the Luthuli detachment who fought in two wars against Rhodesian forces, alongside their Zipra comrades in Zimbabwe, in charting a way to the new SA.
“They are men and women who served or still serve South Africa with commitment, loyalty, and dedication.”
Zuma said some of them had experienced the pain of liberation wars in the fight against colonialism in the southern Africa region.
Many were now out of uniform, but continued to serve and fight for the success of the country.
There were many more unsung heroes in city shops, in the streets, and on farms – ordinary citizens who had decided to fight apartheid.
He said the sacrifices made by the men and women honoured should not be forgotten. “People died for it.”
It was good to see so many veterans at the parade, some nearly forgotten while the rest of the country enjoyed the freedom they had fought for, he said.
Two categories of medals were handed to veterans present at the event or to representatives of their families.
The first was the Military Veterans Decoration in Platinum in classes one, two and three.
The class one medal recipients were the 10 men who founded MK. They included Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
They were awarded the medal for distinguishing themselves through courageous leadership, superior morality, self-sacrifice, exemplary patriotism, and total devotion to the Struggle against apartheid.
The class two medal was awarded to 12 members of the national high command of MK and those who served life sentences with them on Robben Island after the Rivonia Trial.
Recipients included Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg.
The class three medals were awarded to 40 MK members who were in the first regional command structures of the former military wing.
The recipients included Vuyisile Mini, Ronnie Kasrils, Ben Turok, Peter Magano and Caleb Motsabi.
Goldberg said the ceremony was very moving for him. “The recognition is sweet, I must admit.”
He said it was a nice feeling to belong to something truly great, “our democracy”.
A thought taken from the ceremony was that freedom did not fall from the trees. “[It’s] not a gift; sometimes it’s a struggle with pain and suffering.”
Goldberg said the country’s democracy needed to be defended and advanced. South Africans had to do this by working together constructively. –