Hon Chairperson, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, hon members of the portfolio committee, and the House at large, dignitaries and distinguished guests and stakeholders in the public gallery, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela said in his eulogy at the funeral of Oliver Tambo:
There are many who did not understand that to heal we had to lance the boil. There are many who still do not understand that the obedient silence of the enslaved is not the reward of peace which is our due. There are some who cannot comprehend that the right to rebellion against the tyranny is the very guarantee of the permanence of freedom.
Over the past 12 months our Ministry has continued the push to establish a dedicated, efficient organisation to look after military veterans, namely the Department of Military Veterans. The endeavour by government to intervene in addressing the plight of military veterans is arguably among the Ministry's foremost political priorities in the current government administration.
Returning to the same subject again later, Nelson Mandela said:
Reconciliation was not an afterthought or an add-on of our struggle and our eventual triumph. It was always embedded in our struggle. Reconciliation was a means of struggle as much as it was the end goal of our struggle.
Hon members, the Ministry is pleased to report that Parliament has subsequently passed the Military Veterans Bill, as you all know, and it was assented to by the President and promulgated into law in December 2011. I personally wish to thank the committees of both Houses of Parliament for the work done in preparing this piece of legislation for approval by Parliament. Its commencement date has since been proclaimed as 1 April 2012.
The department is committed to delivering the benefits as espoused in section 5 of the Military Veterans Act, and will do so progressively to those eligible for such support. To this end, draft regulations to inform the implementation of this Act will be brought to Parliament before the end of the second semester we are in. We wish to call on sister departments in the Social Development cluster to help expedite the finalisation of suitable modalities for the roll-out of these benefits, for which their respective departments are responsible.
Last year we undertook to ensure that a fully functional department was in place. By the end of March 2012, 27 mainly senior posts were staffed and further appointments have since been made. It is worth mentioning that we will require an amount of R56 million to be able to staff all the posts that are in the structure of the department, which in itself is already more than the entire budget of the Department of Military Veterans in this financial year.
To use the language of the community in which I was born ... re ?ila re hlatlegile. [... our hands are tied.]
In military language this means that we are firing the gun as we are reloading it, or we are using the gun and manufacturing its ammunition at the same time. Time is of the essence here. The needs of the military veterans are a matter of extreme urgency. As we are busy raising the structure of the Department of Military Veterans from the ground, every week another soul from within the community of military veterans passes away, again missing the opportunity as government to rectify the injustice this represents.
In rolling out the benefits intended for military veterans, the department has prioritised all military veterans of advanced age. In the previous financial year, we had already provided them access to all our military health facilities. This preferential roll-out of relief has now been extended to housing needs and support for dependants who are of school- going age.
In this regard, the process to pay school fees for approximately 130 dependants of military veterans is under way. Approximately 2 500 military veterans have already been loaded onto the SA Military Health Service's system. Health care access cards have been issued to ensure just- in-time health care services to all the cohorts of military veterans. To monitor this service, military veterans helpdesks will be introduced at all Defence Force health facilities.
As the Ministry we must take this opportunity again to call on all military veterans to take seriously the need to assist the department in verifying that they are still alive and what their needs are. I also wish to thank those military veterans who presented themselves at the military bases which were used as our centres during the first round of data capturing in December last year.
Another round of this exercise is planned for this month, and the dates will be made public as soon as preparations have been finalised. In this regard, on behalf of the Department of Military Veterans, I wish to apologise for any inconvenience that may have been caused by the glitches in our preliminary plans. In the same breath, I wish to commend those who participated on their patience.
The process of cleaning the database of our military veterans is crucial to the overall success of this government policy on military veterans. Should we fail to be diligent in doing it, we run the risk of either leaving out intended bona fide recipients or allowing fraudulent abuse of this policy intervention by unscrupulous selfish individuals.
For that reason, the department has adopted a rigid attitude that only those military veterans who come forward to verify the information on our database will be considered as we roll out these benefits. This is to protect the credibility of this department in particular and of government in general.
On this occasion last year we reported that we were in the process of assisting the SA National Military Veterans Association, Sanmva, to launch its provincial structures, and that these structures had been established in five provinces already. We have subsequently concluded this process.
The SA National Military Veterans Association is a key institution in empowering military veterans with information about government activities aimed at helping them. Conceptually, it is important to point out that Sanmva in its role has beautiful contrasting colours like a zebra. It is both an organ of civil society and a statutory body at the same time, or it is neither an organ of civil society nor an agent of the state. This suggests that tension between the two roles in which it manifests itself should not be treated as a crisis, but as a necessary contradiction to be constructively managed for the good of government on the one side, and military veterans on the other. The department will, in keeping with the legislation, ensure that we provide the necessary assistance to Sanmva to succeed in both of these roles.
Two other critical institutions in the furtherance of the government policy on military veterans will be established in the course of this financial year, namely the Military Veterans Appeal Board and the Military Veterans Advisory Council.
In their composition, the military veterans community and our SA National Defence Force consist of a significant segment of people who are repositories of the legendary valour of courageous South Africans who, despite being prohibited from acquiring military skills all their lives, organised to challenge the might of the apartheid state militarily.
Some of these exemplary patriots, such as the hon members Andrew Mlangeni and Nelson Diale, who are also members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, and others who were Members of Parliament before, some of whom are in the gallery today, continue to occupy an important place as public representatives in our communities.
Last year, December 16 marked half a century since the native populace of this country rose with arms in hand to assert their right to rebel against their oppressor with the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe, the former military wing of the ANC. Shortly before that, members of Poqo in the Eastern Cape were arrested for the killings along the Bashee River. To mark the 50th anniversary of uMkhonto weSizwe, the SANDF will organise medal parades where former members of this nonstatutory force will receive medals to recognise their selfless service in the struggle for liberation and democracy in South Africa. [Applause.]
The first of these parades will be organised for 2 August 2012, the anniversary of the commencement of the Wankie Campaign in 1967 in the then Rhodesia by uMkhonto weSizwe members of the Luthuli Detachment. Similar appropriate honours will be bestowed on other members of the nonstatutory formations on appropriate occasions. Through the citations of these medals the Department of Military Veterans hopes to preserve this military heritage and memorialise its glorious actors.
The performance plan of the Department of Military Veterans in this financial year is indeed ambitious with respect to heritage, understandably so, because of the zeal to salvage the story of the soldiers who fought against apartheid before it suffers the injustice of being obliterated from our collective national memory.
To this end, the department will be collaborating with initiatives to establish tourism freedom routes nationally and regionally under the SA Heritage Council, SAHC, and any other nongovernmental organisation involved in such endeavours. Important to the preservation of heritage this year, we will also be working to find and restore graves of South African soldiers who were in the liberation armies at home and abroad in order to restore their dignity. A common headstone will be designed for this purpose. This will include the erection of cenotaphs in the former frontline states where many freedom fighters perished, starting with the memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the Matola raid in Maputo, Mozambique, in conjunction with the Department of Arts and Culture.
Chairperson and hon members, it is with an immerse sense of anticipation and joy that the Ministry has established a real opportunity to retrieve the full story and gain access to the legendary maritime tragedy of the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi just five years before we mark the centenary of this occurrence. Since the fateful morning of the 21 February 1917, shortly after 5:00 in the morning, next to the Isle of Wight in the English Sea's waters, when the SS Mendi, with 823 men and officers of the 5th Battalion SA Native Labour Corps, SANLC, bound for France sank, not much of official attention was paid to this immense human tragedy, both in South Africa and Britain. It drifted into historical obscurity. For many of the years since the SS Mendi sank, it has been a story that, with few exceptions, has been largely forgotten by the broader public at home and abroad.
As a Ministry, we have made contacts with the English Heritage and the Wessex Archaeology centre that can give us a real possibility to, firstly, place the SS Mendi and those aboard her when she sank within the wider social and political context of both early 20th century South Africa, and the system of labour contingents that formed part of the war effort of the British Empire during World War 1. Thank you very much, Chairperson. [Time expired.] [Applause.]