Former combatants living in abject poverty
Durban - A HIGH-RANKING Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran on Wednesday told the tale of how he felt the government had left him destitute, with no form of economic and social support.
From a revered high-ranking officer to a homeless beggar loitering the streets of Durban, captain Mpumelelo Cele said he was one of many former soldiers attached to the liberation movement who were now trapped in abject poverty without a shoulder to cry on.
The Mercury spoke to Cele and several other former freedom fighters, who said they were praying that President Cyril Ramaphosa would live up to the promises he made this week.
After chairing a joint meeting of the MK Military Veterans Association, the Azanian People's Liberation Army and the Azanian National Liberation Army with a Presidental Task Team, led by Deputy President David Mabuza, Ramaphosa issued a statement assuring former anti-apartheid fighters their plea for social and economic support would be addressed.
But as the wait for the president’s promise to bear fruit went on, so was Cele’s life of relying on handouts for food and clothing.
One of the many who left the country for military training as part of the armed struggle adopted by the ANC in 1961, Cele said he was today a very frail man, having undergone several medical operations.
When he started getting those hospital operations, he said, that marked the beginning of a downward spiral in his life.
“I was operated on all over the body. But I am not sure for what illness,” said Cele, who added he was medically boarded from the newly integrated SANDF between 1995 and 1999.
He narrated how he underwent military training and shot up the ranks so that by the time the Nelson Mandela administration took over government after the 1994 first democratic elections, he had earned the rank of captain.
“I returned to the country in 1993, and was integrated with other liberation military wings into the old SADF to form the SANDF. I was based in the anti-aircraft head office in Pretoria,” he said.
“I don’t know how I got sick, but I was suddenly hospitalised in the 1st Military Hospital. Several operations were conducted on me. I can’t quite tell you it was for what illness,” said the father of two.
“In the end, the military (medically) boarded me. I remember signing many letters while I was in the hospital bed, but I don’t remember what I was signing for,” said Cele, demonstrating signs of memory loss.
“I feel like a dejected lover. The government for which we fought so hard, leaving our families to join the armed struggle, has clearly left us. It’s like being left behind enemy lines.”
He said he hoped that what Ramaphosa has said was not going to simply end up in the bottom shelf.
“Many of us were hoping for a Christmas present, but the president has only given us a Christmas promise,” he said.
According to Commander Dumisani Mahlinza, of the KwaZulu-Natal chapter of the MKMVA, there were several former liberation combatants who live in the same squalor as faced by Cele.
The veterans want a once-off payment for their contribution to the struggle, presidential pardons for their members, jobs at state-owned entities and housing, among other things.
Spokesperson for the delegation that met the president, Lwazi Mzobe, confirmed that Tuesday's meeting addressed several issues, including the possibility of presidential pardons for their members. They also discussed the issue of bursaries for veterans and burial schemes.
“We are not 100% happy because there are certain issues that we have not resolved. But the good thing is that they have opened the door for talks to continue,” he said.
Echoing Ramaphosa’s sentiments, Mzobe said engagements with the task team to resolve the outstanding issues were ongoing. Ramaphosa said a follow-up meeting would be held early next year.