PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa is being blamed for the so-called “hostage” situation that unfolded at the St George’s Hotel in Irene during the week.
According to sources, Ramaphosa has been playing hide-and-seek with veterans who have been calling for a meeting with him. An anonymous source said Ramaphosa has been abdicating his duties because he has no answers to their pleas.
“From the first time they requested a meeting with him earlier in the year, he appointed Deputy President David Mabuza instead of meeting with them directly. DD (Mabuza) met with them after they had occupied Luthuli House, and promises were made,” said the source.
But nothing materialised from those promises. A second occupation of Luthuli House was arranged, and it was after that meeting that the presidential task team was set up, and the previous week’s meeting was set up.
Mabuza was set to address the grievances of the veterans but, according to sources, he turned back when he realised that Ramaphosa was not going to attend.
“DD realised that he was being put in the firing line, and the person the vets want to resolve their problems is number one. He turned back and the ministers were left alone. The vets were not happy with that and said they didn’t want to be addressed by the minister as they would not be able to resolve their issues,” the source said.
The source added that it was not a hostage situation as there was no threat to life or weapons used to threaten the ministers.
“The ministers were told to call their seniors to come and address the members’ demands. No one was threatened or their lives in danger,” said the source.
Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, Defence Minister Thandi Modise and her deputy, Thabang Makwetla, said they were held against their will at the hotel. Police used stun grenades to defuse the situation, and at least 56 people were arrested.
On Friday, the trio briefed the media regarding what had transpired. They said the meeting could barely start as the veterans demanded that Ramaphosa and Mabuza be the ones to address their needs.
“We had a meeting at the instance of military veterans, who we met last night (Thursday), and we anticipated that they would be interested in the presidential task team’s work progress, as we had those preparations.
“Our intention was to start a meeting and listen to what exactly they wanted the meeting to do because we were very careful about assuming,” said Gungubele.
“We proposed the agenda (but) we could not move beyond that point because they demanded the president and deputy president should be there. We think it is not fair to expect the president to be everywhere whenever he is wanted, because he has created machinery through which he interacts with people, and we think we were that machinery last night,” Gungubele added.
With the stalemate, the trio opted to leave, but the veterans allegedly blocked the exit. Although they spent hours in the room, Gungubele said there was no violence. He also said they were singing and dancing with the veterans at the beginning, but it got “boring” as time went by.
“We realised then that it was no longer as exciting as it was when we started. We were there against our will, but it was not a violent stay,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Modise, who said their lives were never in danger.
“We did not feel that our lives were in danger, but we were unhappy to be refused to leave when the meeting had clearly aborted,” she said.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) weighed in on the matter and criticised the handling of the situation. Spokesperson Carl Niehaus said it was not a hostage situation.
“It is incorrect and unnecessarily alarmist to allege that a hostage situation unfolded at the St George’s Hotel and Conference Centre. At no stage was there any violence or threat to the lives of the two ministers and one deputy minister.
“It was a total over-reaction for special forces to have been sent in, which used excessive force to resolve a non-existent hostage and non-violent situation,” he said.
Niehaus added that they were concerned that 56 military veterans had been arrested, among them three women and mostly older people.
“It is even more disconcerting that stun grenades were used in the raid on the meeting venue - some of those who have been arrested sustained injuries. Instead of having responded with excessive force, our government should have shown appreciation for the deep frustrations of military veterans and acknowledged its failure to address these concerns over a totally unacceptable long time ago,” he said.
A veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity said that a lack of economic integration prevented former MK members from securing a livelihood for themselves and their dependants. He said, as a result, this limitation impacted former MK members the most, thus placing former MK members at the forefront in highlighting the socio-economic challenges of the military veterans’ community and demanding government responses to such challenges.
“Through the 2007 Polokwane resolutions, the state committed itself to address the needs of military veterans as stated in Resolutions 39-41 of the ANC 52nd National Conference, which noted the poor state of the welfare of veterans who required adequate social and economic integration.
“There was no provision for the former liberation fighters who were not absorbed into the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF) until 2007. That was when the MKMVA received recognition and funding as a payback for their support of the successful presidential aspirations of President Jacob Zuma,” he said.
The veteran added that the memory of their service has perhaps dulled but, whatever the reason, funding has dried up while office-bearers had reportedly stolen a large percentage of the money set aside for MK veterans.
A Military Veterans Act enacted in 2011 set up the South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) and provides access to healthcare, subsidised public transport, education, skills and job training and burial support for those who served on both sides of liberation conflicts from 1960.
That allowed former freedom fighters and former SADF combatants to access medical cover at 1 Military and other military hospitals based on an income assessment.
Based on the South African Military Veterans Act, the Department of Military Veterans (DMV) presented to the Select Committee on Security and Justice and outlined the benefits the veterans were entitled to.
Indicating the disbursement of benefits per province and within provinces according to different military formations, they described the challenges the DMV had experienced in providing the legislated benefits to military veterans.
The main reasons the DMV cited for the failure of the department to provide the benefits included a shortage of personnel and an insufficient budget. There were also allegations that houses built for military veterans were sold to those who were not military veterans, and of the DMV not taking any action over this.