The government’s refusal to pay pension annually to an Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) veteran has been ruled unlawful by the South Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg.
Mangaliso Petse, who joined Apla in exile in 1987 at the age of 14, has faced stonewalling from the Department of Military Veterans since 2015.
His troubles started after the department paid him a once-off lump-sum payment of R52 629 and made it clear to him that this was all he would get in terms of regulations of the Military Veterans Act.
The payment followed Petse’s verification that he was indeed a liberation fighter under Apla, which was a military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.
The Military Veterans Verification Board confirmed status on August 30, 2013. Petse returned to South Africa in December 1993 with permanent injuries sustained in exile.
Following a medical assessment, the Department of Defence and Military Veterans declared that Petse qualified for an 80% disability rating in terms of the Military Pensions Act.
But the department still refused to pay him a pension annually. Petse launched a court challenge against this in 2016, first on his own, and was later assisted by law firm Thomson Wilkes Inc.
On Petse’s behalf, advocate Norman Arendse SC argued before Judge Raylene Keightley that the former combatant was effectively given a once-off compensation and not a pension.
The department was acting unlawfully and discriminatorily, Judge Keightley further heard during a hearing in March.
Advocate FF Opperman, for the military veterans department, submitted that Petse was not entitled for pension because he never applied for it.
In a judgment delivered yesterday, Judge Keightley ruled that the department’s argument did not hold water.
“It seems obvious to me that this defence places form over substance in circumstances that defy justification,” said Judge Keightley.
“It is common cause that Mr Petse disputed the legality of his once-off payment from inception. He accepted the payment but reserved his right to contest it.
“The facts included in his affidavits detail the lengths to which he went over the years to set matters to rights.
“He has always contended that he was entitled to more than the once-off payment he received.
“In these circumstances, the suggestion that his entitlement to a pension should be refused because he did not formally apply for one cannot be countenanced,” she said.
Judge Keightley added that it was common cause that Petse was a verified Apla cadre.
“The Veterans Act expressly recognises that military veterans are entitled not only to compensation, but also to a pension,” she said.
The legislation was intended to ensure that members of former military liberation movements would be entitled to pension benefits similar to those accorded to their counterparts in formal military structures, the judge pointed out.
“There is no lawful reason why Mr Petse should not have been granted and paid a pension benefit annually from 2016 onwards.
“For these reasons, I find that he is entitled to declaratory relief giving effect to his right, retrospectively, to annual pension benefits … until his death,” Judge Keightley said.
Petse’s attorney, Bartho van Tonder told The Star the judgment will apply to many liberation fighters who were given once-off compensation.
“Based on this judgment, any other military veteran that approaches the Department of Military Veterans with a similar claim should be entitled to the same benefit of a yearly pension as opposed to a once-off pension that many of them would have received,” he said.
“Many of them are dissatisfied with (the once-off payment). They are saying, ‘how can we only get a once-off payment for everything that we’ve done?’
“It’s like getting a salary only once in your life, as opposed to getting a salary on a periodic basis,” he said.