On 20 April the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa reported that approximately 250 former MK and APLA liberation fighters had taken to the streets, demanding from the City of Johannesburg 'special discounts on city bus services; that 10% of business opportunities created by the city must go to ex-combatants; special housing allocations; dedicated skills-development programmes; priority in getting city jobs, and a special directorate in the mayor's office to coordinate it all'. Similarly, IOL news reported on 5 April that the veterans were demanding bursaries, 'access to business opportunities' and a 'revolutionary approach' to land reform that ignored the willing selling, willing buyer principle.
Veterans had given prior warning that they would make April 2012 a month of 'unparalleled mass action'. Though little of this mass action transpired, it yet again placed the issue of the compensation of military veterans in the spotlight, raising the following questions: What type of compensation should military veterans receive? Who is or is not a military veteran? Does the Department of Military Veterans have the necessary resources to deliver on its promises?
In August 2011 the South African government passed the Military Veterans Act, which spells out the type of benefits and services to which military veterans are entitled. The protests by military veterans appear to have been in response to the perceived slow pace of delivery on promises made at national, provincial and local levels. This prompts us to assess the functioning of the recently established Department of Military Veterans, charged with improving military veterans' quality of life.
Military veterans in South Africa have long been lobbying for greater recognition and increased benefits from government. Their plight received some attention at the ANC's National Conference in Polokwane in 2007, which led to the renaming of the Ministry of Defence to that of the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans and to the establishment of a Department of Military Veterans (DMV) in 2009. This year marks the ANC's centenary celebrations. As we move closer to the ANC National Conference in Mangaung in December this year, we note the internal contestation at play within the ANC. Military veterans are a key constituency within the ANC and no doubt their support would be coveted. It is therefore also an opportune time for them to once again focus our collective memory on their contribution to the building of South Africa and the current poverty-related conditions that many veterans are trapped in.
South Africa has had programmes and legislation to deal with the reintegration of military veterans in the past, for example the Service Corps and the 1999 Military Veterans Act. According to the Deputy Minister of Defence, Thabang Makwetla, these interventions ' were inadequate, piece-meal and not holistically conceived. As a result, support for military veterans remained ad-hoc, discretionary and uneven across all three spheres of government.' To address these issues, the 1999 Act was repealed and replaced with the Military Veterans Act No. 18 of 2011 (though the timing of the Act has caused suspicion about its motives, with innuendos that it could be payback for political support).
The Act defines a military veteran as a South African citizen who rendered military service to statutory and non-statutory military organisations from 1960 to 1994; served in the Union Defence Force before 1961; or became a member of the SANDF after 1994. Since the Act does not list these military organisations and is not specific about the amount of time served in the military, it is somewhat vague about who is included and who is excluded from the status of military veteran. Many have already indicated that the Act excludes, for example, former conscripts (who were included in the 1999 Military Veterans Act). The DMV has to compile a comprehensive database on military veterans in order to determine both the numbers and who is entitled to which benefits. This has in the past proved to be a challenge. There are currently 57 000 beneficiaries on the database.
The Act specifies the benefits and services for military veterans, which are to be delivered through departments, provinces, municipalities and other agencies. The benefits include: compensation for disabling injuries and severe psychological and neuro-psychiatric trauma as a result of participation in military activities; counselling for those suffering from serious mental illness and post traumatic stress disorder; honouring and memorialising fallen military veterans; education, training and skills development; facilitation of employment placements; facilitation of, or advice on, business opportunities; subsidisation or provision of transport; pension; access to health care; housing and burial support.
According to the Deputy Minister the Act 'seeks to address the challenge of military veterans within the national framework of care for the indigent within the broad anti-poverty strategy socially and economically. The policy seeks to deal with the needs of military veterans as an investment towards the broader human resource needs of the country rather than a pure welfare programme.' We see this human resource and investment focus in the emphasis on skills development and the facilitation of business opportunities and it is precisely the lack of delivery on these programmes and opportunities that fuelled the protests.
The DMV is responsible to 'oversee and manage the implementation of Government's framework and programmes on military veterans'. It has 169 approved posts - but many of these have not been filled. Its 5-year Strategic Plan (2012-2016) outlines where its energies will be focused. The Department will have 3 key programme areas: administration; socio-economic support services; and empowerment and stakeholder relations. Under Programme 2 it will concentrate on cleaning up and consolidating the database; research; and developing health care, wellbeing and socio economic support. Programme 3 will concentrate on provincial office co-ordination; skills development; and heritage, memorial and burial projects to honour contributions made by military veterans. The budget for this would be approximately R52 million for 2012/2013, with R18,6 million spent on administration, R21 million on socio-economic support and R11,4 million on empowerment and stakeholder relations. It is clear that the costs of delivery will be high and that the DMV will have to be efficient and establish partnerships to deliver on this expansive mandate.
In an address by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu on the occasion of the National General Council of the South African Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) on 26 April, it was noted that the DoD had already started rolling out access to health care, issued health cards to senior military veterans and was providing burial support. In addition, it is negotiating for the establishment of Heroes Acres in the respective provinces.
Military veterans have been patient for more than 18 years as government works towards finding long-lasting solutions to their reintegration. The Military Veterans Act has the potential to go a long way in providing dignity and security for military veterans. But, as we all well know, there is always a gap between policy formulation and its implementation. The challenges of adequate funding, human capital, ability to operationalise plans and monitor and evaluate its implementation are likely to impact on the delivery of the benefits and services to military veterans entailed in this Act.
Cheryl Hendricks is senior research fellow and Henrietta Bwalya and research intern in conflict management and peacebuilding.