Military Veterans: briefing by Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans

This premium content has been made freely available

Defence and Military Veterans

03 November 2009
Chairperson: Mr MS Booi (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Ministerial Task Team had been created to advise the Minister on matters pertaining to military veterans. The President had demonstrated his concern by including military veterans in the portfolio of Defence. The Deputy Minister said that all military veterans in need should be supported by Government. People on both sides of the conflict were included in the Certified Personnel Register although there were still some persons claiming that they should be included.

Members sought clarity that benefits would be applied equally, subject to a means test. Many people were involved in the struggle for freedom. Special pensions had been introduced to assist needy cases. The absence of a budget was queried as this was a new requirement and would have to be addressed. It was uncertain how many beneficiaries would be identified and what the cost of support would be.

Meeting report

Hon Thabang Makwetla (Deputy Minister, Defence and Military Veterans) introduced the members of the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans who were present. Not all the members could be there. The Task Team had been established to advise the Minister on matters pertaining to military veterans. Some extraordinary work had been done. After the elections the President had decided that the portfolio of Defence should be expanded to include military veterans. The task team had been established to recommend how government could support these people.

The Deputy Minister said that the first step had been to evaluate the status quo. They needed to ensure that there would be no confusion. In 1994 there had been a process of demobilisation and integration. There had been an amalgamation of all military organisations. This was a combined force of 120 000 people. This number was in excess of what was required for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and some of these personnel had to be demobilised. This entailed laying off a number of people who did not have the requisite skills.

Deputy Minister Makwetla said that the people identified for retrenchment had to be equipped with the skills to be integrated into civilian life. Their overall welfare was also of concern. Resources were needed to assist with nation building. Matters were proceeding currently. There were various pieces of legislation in existence that dealt with veterans. He listed eight Acts. However, there was still no comprehensive support.

The Deputy Minister said that the Certified Personnel Register (CPR) had been compiled.  The names of all persons who had been members of military organisations at the time of the formation of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were included on the CPR. All who were on the CPR by December 1996 would be considered to be eligible to be military veterans. There were still some people who believed that their names should be included on the CPR. The consolidation of the list was a major task.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that a system of special pensions had been introduced. However, these were only being paid to a fraction of the people who had been involved in the struggle. Programmes and projects for veterans were limited. The SANDF had established a Service Corps to provide skills to those members leaving the Force. Housing projects had included military veterans in some provinces. During the time that Mr Ronnie Kasrils was the Deputy Minister, medals had been struck for those members of the non-statutory forces (NSF). This had been done under a Directorate for Veterans that had been established by the Military Veterans’ Affairs Act of 1999. However there was no serious budget for veterans. The South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) had been established.

The Deputy Minister said that the Task Team had started its work with a desktop study to learn from the experience of other countries. They had looked at both the developed and undeveloped world. They had looked at countries where military personnel had retired as a matter of course and countries that were in post-conflict situations. Their work had been assisted by some United Nations literature. The team agreed that there was a need to interact with other departments. The Task Team had visited the United States of America (USA) and Algeria to verify their information. The countries had been chosen because the USA had the highest standard of support for veterans with the best resources available. Algeria had one of the best veterans’ organisations in the developing world. The Task Team was working continually and met on a weekly basis.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the provision of support to veterans had to be put into context. Policy would be impacted by concrete realities. There was a difference between the circumstances of former freedom fighters and former members of the conventional forces. The two constituencies had different backgrounds and different needs. The needs of the former freedom fighters were immediate and long-term. Human resources policy in the service needed to be aligned from the point of recruitment to the day of retirement. The support of veterans should be part of Government’s anti-poverty strategy. Some correlation was needed with those programmes. A means test was a requirement to determine the degree of need on an individual basis.

The Deputy Minister listed the policy objectives. These included serving and memorialising military veterans. A seamless transition from active service was to be provided. The capabilities of veterans with disabilities had to be restored. The programme would make a contribution to reconciliation and nation building. Finally the policy would enhance the work force.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that one of the challenges was to determine who would benefit. Intense inputs were needed. The Military Veterans Affairs Act of 1999 defined a military veteran as a person who had served on either side of the conflict before 1994 or had since retired. The condition was that that person must have received an honourable discharge. Another condition was the person must be a South African citizen. A dependent that could also benefit was also defined.

The Deputy Minister said that there was an issue surrounding eligibility. This would be determined by subjecting the applicant to a separate means test for each aspect of the benefits. The applicant would receive nothing if his or her income exceeded a certain level. A cascading scale would be applied. One of the considerations would be the length of the jail term that the applicant had served and the extent of the disability suffered. Another consideration would be the extent to which that person had been compromised during the struggle. There were several issues around benefits.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the next process would be to form a stakeholders’ forum. There would be a meeting later in the week. Macro institutions would be involved. The Minister wished to see that the responsibility for military veterans should warrant a separate Department. Failing that, there should be a separate vote with independent accounting within the budget of the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV). Another question to answer was to what degree the DoDMV would be responsible for support of veterans and to what degree other departments would contribute.

The Deputy Minister told the meeting that an Appeals Board would be formed. This organisation was needed as a means of recourse for those former soldiers whose applications to be included in the CPR were declined. There were already many people in this position. The Ministry would put together an Advisory Council that would advise the Minister on the affairs of veterans. Several veterans’ organisations had already amalgamated to form SANMVA. It would be better if their concerns were expressed from a central organisation.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that these recommendations would provide a preliminary framework for the work of the Task Team. Further refinement was still needed. The Minister would have to put a team together. A structure was needed for a remuneration package. When the President had made his decision, citizens were obligated to address his concerns. It was not possible politically to neglect the veterans. Many South Africans had fought for democracy and now found themselves just as destitute as the former soldiers. The Task Team had been formed to deal with veterans. Government intervention would accentuate the situation of those non-soldiers who had fought for freedom. He would like to see a footnote in the report urging Government to investigate their plight, and the Task Team could advise Government. Some of these people were already receiving special pensions and others were being supported in other ways. A dedicated organisation was needed in Government.

The Chairperson said that the Members had a lot to chew on. This was only a preliminary report.

Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) congratulated the Task Team on their achievements to date. It was absolutely marvellous work what had been done in such a short time. Their intentions were good. However, there was a history of good policies and legislation being followed by weak implementation. This would be a huge task. Huge funding would be needed from Government and other sources. He asked if Government had sufficient funds. Hopefully the legislation would be introduced by the next financial year (FY). He asked if the Ministry was planning to introduce a Bill on veterans, and if so when it could be expected. Although it was a preliminary report it would lead to more questions.

Mr D Maynier (DA) was pleased about the inclusiveness of the definition of a military veteran. It would include, amongst others, the surviving veterans of World War 2 (WW2). He had received a letter from a gentleman, born in 1926, who had served with the South African Air Force (SAAF) during WW2. South Africans of all colours had lost their lives during that campaign. His correspondent was battling to survive on his war veteran’s pension. It was unfair to compare his pension to those being paid currently. He asked if his correspondent could expect to receive a pension similar to the veterans of more recent conflicts. He asked the Deputy Minister for more details on how many veterans were contemplated by the Task Team, the benefits that would be provided and the cost per FY. The policies had good intent. He asked how much had been set aside for paying pensions in the next three FYs.

Lt Gen Derrick Mgwebi (Chief of Human Resources, DoDMV) said that it was a struggle to find a credible database. They had now managed to come up with a single veterans’ association. There were about 20 000 veterans to be considered. Addresses were needed for many of them. The Department did not know how many were still alive and how many years of service they had. The benefit of the special pension was not necessarily a problem for the DoDMV to solve. Reskilling of personnel leaving the SANDF was carried out by the Service Corps in conjunction with the Department of Labour. They needed to find out what skills were needed in the civilian sector to provide optimum training.

Brig Gen (Ret) Mbulelo Fihla (First Deputy President, SANMVA) said that the Task Team was not yet at the stage where they could say how the policy would be implemented. They were still looking at what needed to be done. Key elements were still being identified. A plan would be formed once the structure was in place. As for the WW2 veteran, it would be unfair to make any promises at this stage. A lot of work still had to be done. Some pensions were based on previous policies.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) asked if additions to the CPR would only be made through the Appeals Board. He asked what the criteria for inclusion would be. He asked if there would be a codified list for the proposed cascading scale of benefits or whether these would all be determined on an individual basis. He asked if all those named on the CPR would receive equal treatment.

Lt Gen Mgwebi said that the database was in place but might not be credible. The CPR was in existence but there were some challenges with it. One of the problem areas was determining the number of years of services. Some were still claiming that they should be on the list. It was the prerogative of the Minister to consider an appeal. Submissions would be made to the Appeals Board. Corroborative evidence would be needed. There had been restructuring in many departments. This was carried out under the auspices of the Department of Public Service & Administration (DPSA). All departments had to consider the implications.

Maj Gen Fihla said that all members would be treated equally. Once the question of eligibility was settled then the means test would be applied. The DoDMV had been battling with fraudulent membership claims since the integration of the various military forces. In Algeria there was a committee that looked at the legitimacy of claims.

Mr L Tolo (COPE) asked if benefits would apply to those in jail. On the question of gender equality he noted that only one woman was serving on the committee with fifteen men. He asked why this had been allowed. He noted the intent to promote reconciliation and nation building. He had seen that a group of former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) soldiers were threatening to make the Western Cape ungovernable. The Task Team should look into the question of such intimidation by veterans. He agreed that they should be well supported, but protests such as the one he described gave all veterans a bad name. The comrades from the struggle days knew each other but it seemed that everybody was now claiming to be a former freedom fighter. Everybody had fought apartheid but had not necessarily been imprisoned or forced to go into exile. His party supported the work of the Task Team. He asked veterans if the TVBC (Transkei, Venda, Bophutatswana and Ciskei) armed forces would also qualify.

Maj Gen Keith Mokoape (Chief, South African Army Reserve) confirmed that the TBVC members were included on the register. The state had made some contribution to pensions but veterans might have civilian skills. It was sad that some former Non Statutory Force (NSF) members turned to crime. The work of the Task Team was to look at the generally destitute, particularly those from the NSF. The statutory forces generally had pension schemes to assist their members on retirement.

Ms N Mabedla (ANC) said that this was the second time that the DoDMV was overlooking women. Veterans were playing with the emotions of the people. Government had the capacity and mechanisms to achieve success with this project. She thanked the Deputy Minister for the work done to date. The question was how to implement the proposals. It went to the souls of her brothers and sisters.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that gender issues would be dealt with. They were a component of the issues of eligibility. In the USA there was a bias towards female veterans. This would be included in the policy. He noted Ms Mabedla’s criticism of the gender make-up of the Task Team. There was no excuse for this.

The Deputy Minister said that funding was a big challenge but he believed that the country was prepared to pay. It was a political decision and there would be consequences if the veterans were not supported. Other problems were still under the radar. There had been consternation in the past over the recruitment of South African military personnel for private armies. These armies were employed in Iraq and other hot spots. Soldiering was the only skill that most of these people had. They had to be taught alternate skills on their discharge from the SANDF or else there would be consequences. No price was too big to pay for certain things.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the Task Team had started to review current legislation. Once they had made an assessment they could recommend whether new legislation was required or if it would suffice to amend current legislation. The Defence Act would need to be amended. The Minister had wanted to see this legislation being dealt with before the end of the current session but he feared that this was too ambitious although he recognised the urgency.

Dep Minister Makwetla confirmed once again that everybody would enjoy equal treatment. The means test would be applied to the separate benefits. The question of cascading benefits was a very technical matter. The technocrats would have to sort it out but the principle had been established.

The Deputy Minister said that there was money available immediately to set up a department. An actual budget would only be available for the 2010/11 FY. Disputes surrounding the CPR would be subject to appeals. Dependents were entitled to support. There would still be debate over how a dishonest discharge would be interpreted. It would depend on the type of crime committed by the member.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that political partisanship would weaken the desired cohesion. The SANMVA was a unitary body but there could still be resourceful individual action. All freedom fighters would be considered, not just those who had been jailed or exiled.

The Deputy Minister said that the Minister’s approach had been to act responsibly while cutting corners in interest of speed and capacity. The ideal would have been to publish a White Paper. All were concerned with the urgency of the matter. The report should be available within the following fortnight.

Mr L Diale (ANC) thanked the Minister and her Deputy for the work done. He was happy. Not all the supporters of the struggle in South Africa could be defined as freedom fighters. These people were part of organised structures. He appreciated what the veterans of WW1 and WW2 had done but they were part of military structures. It was nice to talk but hard to fight. The question of special pensions was very important. These were taxable. The pensioner did not realise that he would be billed for tax at the end of the year. People had spent many years in the struggle but were left with nothing. He had a tax bill of R30 000 on his special pension. People had fought for freedom, not special pensions.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC) said that a number of people were included on the list undeservedly. People were repaying benefits but still receiving special pensions. Those receiving benefits incorrectly should be flushed out, removed from the CPR and punished. He asked when the provincial launches would happen. Benefits should cascade to provincial structures and through all three spheres of government. The offices of the provincial Premiers should ensure that benefits were distributed. He asked how far the leadership was with arrangements. Many of the freedom fighters had left children behind when they returned from exile in countries such as Angola. He asked if there was any plan to repatriate these children.

Mr Maynier returned to his question of equal treatment. He asked if an indigent MK veteran would receive the same benefit as an indigent WW2 veteran.

Dep Minister Makwetla replied that this would be the case.

Mr Maynier said that the Department of Human Settlements had a preferential policy for veterans of the struggle. He asked if this was wrong. He asked if the Task Team had considered instituting a Code of Conduct (CoC) for veterans. Recently some members had trashed the Union Buildings. If a CoC was in place contraventions could be punished. His WW2 veteran correspondent should then receive an equal pension. It seemed to him that the Task Team either did not have the data or was unwilling to share information with the Committee. The General had estimated there were 20 000 veterans. He asked how many were receiving special remuneration and housing benefits, and what the cost was. The question of the budget was the elephant in the room. The intentions were good but there was no budget. He asked what this would be for the next three years.

Mr Lorimer (DA) noted that this was an ongoing process. He thanked the Task Team for their assurances. It was not clear who was on the CPR. It would have to be expanded to include former National Servicemen and members of the South African Cape Corps (SACC).

Mr Tolo said that some special units had taken part in the bush war. He asked if there would be any benefit for other people who had been killed in the war. He asked for more clarity on the role of the Appeals Board.

Mr Mlangeni said that the Task Team had told the Committee that this was a preliminary report. They could not expect all the answers at present. He suggested to Mr Maynier that he reply to his correspondent and thank him for his participation. He could tell the veteran that the Government was considering his situation seriously.

The Chairperson said that the Deputy Minister should reply to these questions.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the Task Team wanted to hear the views of the Committee. Mr Maynier had asked the same question twice. He understood the concern over equal treatment but had already replied to the question. Perhaps Mr Maynier had not heard him. This illustrated the position. The policy could only treat veterans on an equal basis and would do so. People must not lose sight of the context. They should not prevaricate. Those who had been in the struggle were in a destitute plight. They could not make provision for themselves. This was not because of neglect.

The Deputy Minister said that members of the SANDF were soldiers but were in a normal condition. They received a salary and there was a provision for a pension. Their situation did not raise the same kind of concerns as former members of the NSF. If the Members were not convinced then they were speaking past each other. The policy must look at the individual’s needs for each type of benefit. Some affirmative action was needed for those who were completely destitute. The cascading scale would be informed by the degree to which lives had been disrupted. Those most challenged had to be affirmed. There would be no discrimination. Some socialism was needed to address the needs. People served in the military forces under peculiar circumstances.

Dep Minister Makwetla told Mr Maynier that he should communicate with his correspondent in broad terms. He could not speak authoritatively on the proposal. The SANMVA was the organisation that represented the beneficiaries. They would decide on the acceptability of their members’ behaviour.

The Deputy Minister said that Government would have to decide on who was eligible for benefits. It was a question of honour and Government policy. They had the data on the CRP. Some of it was inconclusive. The list had been checked. This work had taken over three years to consolidate the list, and yet there were still disputes. In about 500 cases the organisations could vouch for the applicants but their applications had been too late.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the Cape Coloured Corps (CCC) had been dissolved before the integration of military forces to form the SANDF. They were therefore not a part of the SANDF at the time of integration. Members had been paid off. This was a decision made by the Government of the day. Cabinet would decide if this decision should be revisited. There could be other similar cases where political intervention was needed.

The Deputy Minister said that the Special Pensions unit was a division of National Treasury. About 12 000 of 54 000 applicants had been successful.  Veterans of WW2, the war in Korea and members of the TBVC forces would be considered. It had been made clear that there would be support for veterans but there was a question of eligibility. The consolidation of the CPR was critical. Beneficiaries had to be verified, and this matter would have to be dealt with diligently.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that he could not say what budget would be needed. This would depend on the size of the population. This would only be known when the CPR was consolidated. Finality could then follow on what benefits would be given. Nothing had been set aside in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) as this was a new requirement.

The Deputy Minister said that there would be some compensation for those who had died during the struggle. The children of exiles would qualify automatically even if their parents had died. Information was needed in this regard.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that the role of the Appeals Board was to take a second look at applications that had been denied. This would allow for unfair treatment to be corrected.

The Chairperson pointed out that this was the first session with the Task Team. It was not possible to answer all the questions at this meeting. The CPR had been accepted in Parliament with its discrepancies. The SACC members had made representations many times. This was a political problem. He asked Members if they had more questions. They had made good progress and the engagement had been positive.

Dep Minister Makwetla picked up Mr Diale’s comment that not everybody had been a freedom fighter. The resistance movement had involved a huge slice of the population. Government support was a deliberate attempt to help. If it had enough money then it could help all in need. Applications for special pensions had been verified by the various organisations. The Task Team would consider the tax on special pensions. The CPR list should not be open. There was a lot of fraud with special pensions. Investigations had been conducted and were ongoing. This resorted under the Treasury rather than the DoDMV. The provincial launches should have been on the initiative of the veterans.

Lt Col (Ret) Godfrey Giles (Second Deputy President, SANMVA) that the intention was there to launch the organisation in the provinces but funding was a problem. There were few organisations where both sides of a previous conflict were together. They had asked for a workshop to be held where acceptable behaviour could be defined. It had been difficult to compile the database. There had been a lot of assistance from regimental organisations and non-government organisations. Members of the CCC were part of the SANMVA. They had their own veterans’ organisations but the national body could not run all 67 branches. Some regional organisations were trying to pass themselves off as national bodies.

Brig Gen Fihla said that SANMVA had experienced problems in planning launches due to concerns over its status. They were not legally recognised.  There were agreements between members. Military veterans’ organisations were still fragmented. For example, there were three MK structures in the Free State.

The Chairperson said that the Members would want to discuss matters further amongst themselves.

Dep Minister Makwetla said that part of the process was a stakeholders’ workshop organised for 6 November 2009. He assumed that the Committee had been invited.

The Chairperson replied that no invitation had been received.

The meeting was adjourned.


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: