The controversial Military Veterans Bill came under fire in Parliament this week for the preferential treatment it grants military veterans over other veterans of the struggle against apartheid.
In a presentation to the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans Marjorie Jobson, the national director of the Khulumani Support Group, said the Bill could create distinctions among those most harmed by apartheid, perpetuating the divisions in communities. “We are very concerned that this model will preference certain groups over others and reinforce divisions,” she said.
Khulumani works with apartheid survivors and their families, including military veterans. The group estimates that to extend benefits in a non-discriminatory way by making a R2 000 monthly grant to all struggle veterans could cost the state R2-billion a year for five years. Khulumani has 65 000 registered survivors of violations during apartheid on its database, which does not include the 57 500 military veterans.
This is a far cry from initial costings of the Bill, which envisaged benefits totalling between R20-billion and R65-billion. Jobson’s comments were echoed by the International Centre for Transitional Justice, which argued that the Bill should be expanded to include those who suffered gross human rights violations under apartheid.
“Recognising the sacrifices made by those who provided important services to the country and its democratisation is vital,” said Howard Varney, the centre’s acting director. “However, such recognition should be on par or the same as the recognition of the sacrifices of those who suffered gross human rights violations during the course of the conflict.”
Varney argued that the Bill should afford reparations only to military veterans who endured gross human rights violations. “We note that most victims of apartheid violence and abuse have not received adequate reparation,” the centre’s submission said.
The “granting of reparations to all military veterans, whether or not they are victims of human rights abuses” would undermine national unity and reconciliation.
“It will mean that additional benefits are afforded to a segment of society while others, who suffered great harm and hardship for the liberation of South Africa, receive little or nothing,” said Varney.