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ONE of the challenges that South Africa continues to face is how to deal with members of former national liberation forces who have not been integrated into the new SA National Defence Force post-1994.
This country had several liberation movements with their various armed wings. These included Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) for the ANC, Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla) for the PAC and the Azanian Liberation Army (Azanla) for Azapo.
After SA's first democratic elections in 1994 integration took place for MK and Apla personnel into the then South African Defence Force - which had defended the apartheid state - to form the South African National Defence Force.
Burt no Azanla members were integrated because of the position that Azapo took - of not being part of the multiparty talks that delivered the new political dispensation.
A tour of any black community raises stories of former liberation army members who were not integrated into the new defence forces and who have become destitute.
There is now a new initiative by the government to look at how these forgotten heroes can be catered for.
Earlier this year, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu announced that a national task team was to investigate how to address the challenges encountered by all military veterans. The task team is led by Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla.
During an interview with Sowetan, Makwetla explained that the new initiative was aimed at including "all the military formations that were involved in the past conflict".
This includes former members of Azanla, the Inkatha Freedom Party-aligned selfprotection units, as well as MK, Apla and former defence force members who are currently not part of the new SANDF.
The deputy minister conceded that - just as in the multiparty talks - there was a need for South Africans to compromise in the name of nation building.
"Legally Azanla excluded themselves from being part of the new force but there are now discussions about how to bring them into the fold," said Makwetla.
He also pointed out that the IFP-linked self-protection units (SPUs) were regarded as part of the apartheid-fighting machinery but that now they needed to be brought into the fold.
"There is a price that the country has to pay, otherwise we will be creating unnecessary instability if we leave things as they are," argued Makwetla.
He said South Africans with military training who were not catered for had joined privately trained armies in countries such as Iraq.
The new objective is to create opportunities for those South Africans who were directly involved in the past conflict, either as part of the liberation movement or as part of the then apartheid machinery.
The country must be prepared to accept that people who fought on either side were South Africans who believed that they were justified to do what they were doing, he said.
"All of us were convinced that we were right and it would be unfair to try and penalise or ostracise individuals who were fighting for a particular cause.
"This is the tragedy of our history, and creating an environment where these people who stopped their lives to take up arms can now pick up the pieces is the only way that we can build a new South African nation."
Makwetla explained that discussions had taken place Veterans Affairs within the Ministry of Defence should have a separate budget vote and an accounting officer.
But a question still arises. If Inkatha's SPUs are now catered for, what about the self-defence units (SDUs) that were formed to counter them?
Makwetla's explanation is that the SPUs were part of a military structure trained by the then South African Defence Force - in Caprivi.
"The SDUs were not part of any military formation. They were part of a spontaneous response by communities under attack to defend themselves.
"If indeed there are individuals whose lives were brought to a standstill because of their involvement in the formation or running of SDUs then such cases need to be dealt with - but not as part of the militaryveterans," Makwetla said.