Jacob Zuma honours MK veterans

Text of President's speech at first medals parade celebrating contribution of non-statutory forces

Address by Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), President Jacob Zuma at the First Medals Parade celebrating the contribution of the Military Veterans of the Non-Statutory Forces

2 Aug 2012

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, 
Premier of the Free State, 
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, 
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, 
Chief of the South African National Defence Force and the Secretary for Defence, 
Esteemed Recipients of our First Military Veterans Medals from the non-statutory forces, 
Members of the Plenary Defence Staff Council,
Ladies and gentlemen.

We have gathered today for a very significant occasion in the history of our country.

We have come together to celebrate those who dedicated and sacrificed their lives to bring about the democratic South Africa that we all live in and enjoy. 

We have not had an opportunity in the past to truly acknowledge these veterans of our liberation struggle in a befitting manner.

The First Medals Parade is a fitting tribute to our military veterans and in particular, the trailblazers and the founding leaders of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), such as Chief Albert Luthuli and OR Tambo. 

Amongst these pioneers we also include former President Nelson Mandela as the first Commander in Chief of uMkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and the first Commander in Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) of our democratic country in 1994. 

Today's parade is dedicated to uMkhonto weSizwe commanders and gallant fighters of the Luthuli Detachment, who fought two wars against the Rhodesian Forces, alongside their Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) comrades in Zimbabwe, charting the way to South Africa.  

The defence force of a democratic South Africa has been inspired by such luminaries as the veterans that we are honouring today. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, and nearly every category in between, they are men and women who served or still serve South Africa with commitment, loyalty and dedication. 

Some have endured great hardships, separation from family and drastically altered lifestyles. Some have experienced the pain of liberation wars throughout the fight against colonialism not only in South Africa but in the Southern Africa region. What they have in common, is that all sacrificed something so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today.

For many, their service did not end when they took off the uniform. They have continued to be active in the development of our young democracy in whatever capacity they can, for this has been and still is their livelihood. They, after all know nothing but to fight for the well-being of their people and the success of their country. 

The Constitution obliges us to 'honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land'. Also, Section 5(1)(c ) of the Military Veterans Act 18 of 2011, enables the country to deliver on this mandate. 

In other words, our Constitution enjoins us to ensure that our veterans are recognised by honouring them in life and in death. 

Their sacrifices were not in vain and we have a responsibility to demonstrate and celebrate that fact. Through their deeds, we are able today to enjoy freedom and dignity. It is against this backdrop that we honour these heroes and heroines of our country.

It has been my honour today, as the Patron-in-Chief of the Military Veterans, to confer the Platinum Medals for the founders of MK, the MK High Command and those arrested with them in Rivonia and served life terms as well as the MK Regional Commands.

I have also conferred the Bravery Gold Medals to outstanding members of the Luthuli Detachment. We are happy to launch this programme of the recognition of our veterans by honouring those who fought in the Wankie and Sipolilo in Zimbabwe in the 1960s following the declaration of the armed struggle.

The minority government had declared war on the people as witnessed in the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960. The apartheid government further proclaimed a state of emergency where over 20 000 people were indiscriminately arrested and detained for months without trial. 

After much deliberation and consultation, the ANC and its leadership became convinced of the need to embark on revolutionary armed struggle. This saw the establishment of Umkhonto weSizwe.

The MK manifesto, released on the 16 December 1961 boldly declared: 

"The people's patience is not endless. The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices - submit or fight. That time has come to South Africa. 

"We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom".

This declaration was accompanied by a series of sabotage explosions in all parts of the country. 

This, a response to racial arrogance, greed and ruthlessness, was met with an equal determination on the part of the racist government to smash this new method of struggle. Counter measures were taken by the liberation movement. 

A number of leading comrades, including Oliver Tambo, Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Yusuf Dadoo were sent out of the country to set up structures to support the planned armed insurrection. Scores of young militants were recruited and sent abroad for training as guerrillas of MK.  

This included President Nelson Mandela who left South Africa for military training in 1962. He was also tasked with arranging military training for new recruits in a number of countries.

You will recall that the year 1963 saw the arrest of the MK High Command at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg. 

This resulted in the Rivonia trial at the end of which Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Vuyisile Mini, Wilton Khayinga and Sizakele Mkhaba, three prominent trade unionists from Port Elizabeth, were executed at Pretoria Maximum Prison for MK activities. It was a difficult, taxing period.

It was also the period of heroism, such as the establishment of the Luthuli Detachment which fought heroic battles around Zimbabwe and Zambia. On 30 July 1967 for example, a combined MK and ZIPRA contingent crossed the Zambezi River from Zambia.

This heralded the start of the Wankie and Sipolilo battles, which continued until late 1968. The Primary objective of this operation was to march across the then Rhodesia to South Africa to set up underground operations to politically mobilise South Africans in different sections of the country. The other mission was to set up military bases together with ZAPU forces in northeast Rhodesia.

Former MK Commander and ANC leader Chris Hani explained the objectives of the campaign as follows: 

"You must remember 1966 to 1967 was the lowest point in terms of the ANC and the Congress movement as a whole. The movement was, politically speaking, decimated, so there was a strong feeling that the guerrillas should use their presence inside South Africa to begin to build the ANC underground, to train combat units and later to move into active military operations against the regime". p 90, (Hani: A Life Too Short, Smith, J and Tromp, B). 

Though the intention was to avoid contact with the Rhodesian security forces, this was not to be. A number of skirmishes between the Luthuli Detachment and the Rhodesians lasted from 12 August 1967 to late 1968.

As a result, the beleaguered Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, invited his South African counterpart, John Vorster to send South African security reinforcements to help counter the guerilla offensive.

The known campaigns within the Luthuli detachment era which we are recognising today are: The Sabotage Campaign; Wankie (Huange) Campaign; Sipolilo Campaign; Tete Campaign; Caprivi Campaign; Aventura Campaign; Botswana Recce Campaign; Seaborne Campaign; Kalomo Campaign; Nampula Campaign; and, the Brynthirion Campaign.

These accomplishments were due to the discipline, motivational skills, calmness under pressure and other leadership traits that were instilled in every man and woman that has served in the greatest military force of our kind as South Africans. 

Many would question where we can find such people who are willing to sacrifice their childhood and lives to ensure that we all live in a democratic and free society.

We find them in our streets and in many parts of our communities.

The story of their accomplishments must inspire those who serve in the democratic defence force today, so they can serve with pride, knowing that they are walking on the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani and many soldiers of the struggle for liberation.

And those of us, who serve in government, must remember that we are enjoined by our glorious history of struggle as a people, to reflect on our past, and most importantly to reflect on the progress that this current administration has made in the fulfilment of a promise made in our Constitution.

We derive this mandate from our Constitution, which directs us to create a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society. We are also informed by the Freedom Charter, one of the key founding documents that influenced the Constitution. The Charter declares that there be peace security and comfort.

The South African National Defence Force, in following the tradition of President Mandela and many who fought for our freedom, is moving in that direction of ensuring peace, security and comfort always for our people. We thank our veterans for planting the seeds of the peace and stability that we enjoy today.

We congratulate all our veterans and their families who supported them throughout the difficult periods in the history of struggle. We are doing our best as government to improve the lives of veterans.

Government instituted the Department of Military Veterans specifically to ensure support to our heroes and heroines. The veterans of former liberation movements are not covered by the support given to those of the former statutory forces of the apartheid regime and the former Bantustans.

We are therefore putting legislation and other measures to improve the lives of our veterans. The Military Veterans Act provides the mandate for the Department of Military Veterans to implement its programmes in support of the Military Veterans. 

The Department of Military Veterans has the responsibility, subject to available resources and any regulation that may be prescribed in this regard, to ensure that support and benefits are provided to military veterans, either through the Department or through other organs of state.

Section 5 of the Act 18 of 2011, clearly states that all organs of state that are responsible for the payment or provisioning of benefits to military veterans. 

They are obliged to cooperate with the Minister and the Department of Defence and Military Veterans in respect of the payment or provisioning of those benefits. 

Section 5 (1)(c) of the Military Veterans Act also enables the country to deliver on the constitutional  obligation to "honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land". 

This is critical in ensuring that persons who sacrificed to realise a democratic South Africa, are recognised by honouring them in life and in death. Amongst the achievements of the democratic state, veterans can now access healthcare. 

The department had initially approved lists of the most needy and sick members to access health as subject to the resource constraints at a time. We are now in a position to provide Universal Access to Health care through our Military Health Services. 

This benefit, like all other benefits outlined in the Act will of course be subject to veterans passing the means test. In this regard, we have started issuing health cards, which we launched with our Senior Veterans earlier this year.

We have now finalised the specifications for a house that we believe meets the basic requirements of our military veterans. We fully understand that this is the bare minimum. We need to start somewhere and we can always improve.

We have already begun to provide burial support to some military veterans whose families are in need of assistance. In this regard, the department is finalising a Burial Policy, which will include recognition and honorary services.

The department is also working with provinces regarding the establishment of Heroes Acres. We also have begun to consolidate the data-base of Military Veterans to be able to provide the much-needed support.

The democratic government will continue doing everything in its power to support these men and women who risked their lives so that we could achieve a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. We congratulate all our veterans today on their medals and also on their sterling contribution to the history and achievements of this nation.

You are an inspiration to us all.

I thank you!

Issued by The Presidency, August 2 2012

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