Government’s interaction with marching and ’hostage-taking’ military veterans defended
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Cape Town - Defence and Military Veterans Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla has defended the government’s engagements with military veterans who are not part of the South African Military Veterans’ Association.
“In appreciation of the distress that is there within the community because of inadequate services, it was the view that we must be accommodative of everyone who is a military veteran who wants to reach out to the government and be heard. It was for that reason this group of marchers were met,” Makwetla said.
He was asked whether negotiating with the group that recently held him, Defence Minister Thandi Modise and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele hostage had given them legitimacy and official recognition.
Makwetla said a presidential task team was established at the beginning of November last year with the responsibility to look into grievances presented by the marchers at the Union Buildings.
The task team, led by Deputy President David Mabuza, has established eight work streams in order to deal with all the grievances contained in the marchers’ submission.
The work streams deal with legislative review work around the Military Veterans Act, an organisational redesign of the department, Military Veterans Pension Act, heritage and memorialisation matters, communication challenges of the department, database verification of military veterans, socio-economic support to the veterans and economic opportunities.
Makwetla said the intervention made to respond to the marchers’ demands involved engagement primarily with the National Treasury to make available financial resources to implement some of the benefits that were in the Military Veterans Act, which the department was unable to roll out due to its limited budget.
“The focus has been paying out military pensions to military veterans. Work is at an advanced stage.”
He said there was a possibility that the pensions could be paid before the end of March 2022.
“If this does not happen, it is almost certain that at the beginning of the next financial year the year military veterans’ pensions will be paid out.”
The deputy minister also said the work stream on education, health and housing was working out a new arrangement that would see the department collaborate with provincial departments to roll out the services.
Makwetla said the verification of the military veterans was one of the areas the presidential task team decided to reorganise after it was suspended in recent years. The verification process had been re-established, a panel was in place and the military veterans associations had been asked to be observers, he said.
Asked about the verification of the 57 military veterans who were criminally charged, Makwetla said the department had undertaken to verify them.
“The glitch encountered was that the investigating team was not forthcoming with the details of the defendants, and as a result we had to approach the prosecution team in order to get those details.
“The department is aware of the importance of dealing with the matter in a procedural way.”
The deputy minister dismissed suggestions that the task team had not done its work when Mabuza was absent due to ill-health.
“The work streams continued to meet as we sit today. They never stopped when the deputy president was not available.”
Makwetla also said they had tabled a report to an oversight committee, and they would follow up with an update on progress up to this point.
“We have never undermined the obligation of the ministry and department to make sure we make good the statutory obligations of the government to support military veterans.”