Victory in sight for SA’s struggle vets

2011-02-12 16:12

Life is hard for Lazarus Mathe (72), a liberation struggle veteran who is living like a pauper without a special pension or other benefits reserved for military veterans.

He spent 28 years in exile doing underground work for the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), yet his home is now a small backyard room on someone else’s property.

When Mathe returned to South ­Africa in 1990, he found that he no longer had a home.

The apartheid government had kicked his family out of their council house in 1962 ­because of his political activism.

Mathe lived in a flat in Johannesburg for a while, then began a life of wandering in a democratic South Africa, the way his mother had lived in apartheid South Africa.

He has yet to receive feedback on his application for a special pension, which he submitted last year.

But there is hope for Mathe and many ex-combatants who find themselves relegated to a life of ­poverty and unemployment.

The Military Veterans Bill, which was tabled in Parliament last year, aims to address issues ­affecting ex-combatants.

Issues covered by the bill range from housing and health, to ­educating and training military ­veterans and their families.

“We were pioneers. We should not live like paupers. We fought for this freedom. Why can’t we enjoy it now? Life has been very hard, but I have no regrets. The sacrifice was worth it,” says Mathe, who was one of the organisers of the massive anti-pass campaigns that culminated in the tragic Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.

“Most cash heists are committed by ex-combatants because they are not well looked after. They came back into the country with no jobs and no income, and they can’t take care of their children. Some find this as a way of making a living,” he says.

Although the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) welcomed the bill, the Apla Military Veterans’ Association (AplaMVA) takes issue with a clause dealing with soldiers who were dishonourably discharged from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“We have comrades who were ­dishonourably discharged because they were confronted by a hostile ­environment, racism and unjust ­allocation of ranks in the SANDF,” says AplaMVA general secretary Mudini Maivha.

“They were confronted with and frustrated by the mentality of the old South African Defence Force, which exists in the SANDF.

“These issues should be revisited because most of these dishonourable discharges were forced by ­circumstances.

“Because people gave their lives to the struggle, they were not able to advance themselves academically and their children became disadvantaged as a result. They were not able to work and save money for their children’s education because they were engaged in a war for ­freedom.

“We are saying any training and education should extend to the children of the military veterans, ­particularly at tertiary level.”

Some of the issues raised by the AplaMVA include medical aid benefits for military veterans and their children, and proper housing in line with United Nations regulations for military veterans.

Kebby Maphatsoe, the MKMVA ­national chairperson, says they are hopeful the bill will address the suffering of their comrades.

“We have waited for 16 years and do not expect another talk shop, but something that will be implemented to assist our people. We hope that government supports this bill with an adequate budget,” he says.

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans is ­currently in discussions with the Department of Human Settlements with a view to developing common standards and guidelines to provide houses to military ­veterans, according to spokesperson Ntime Skhosana.

“This process will, however, also include consultations among the ­treasury, Human Settlements and Military Veterans,” says Skhosana.

He says the database the Department of Defence and Military Veterans has stands at 57?500 members.

“The department will embark on a process of authenticating and ­finalising a comprehensive ­database,” he says.

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