What is a military veteran? Defence department to change law to provide accurate definition

'The definition needs to be scrutinised and the wording looked at' — acting director for legal Celeste Jordaan

Aphiwe Deklerk Political reporter
MK veterans on their way to Nkandla to support former president Jacob Zuma. File photo.
MK veterans on their way to Nkandla to support former president Jacob Zuma. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

The department of defence and military veterans wants to amend the Military Veterans Act to clarify the definition of a “military veteran”.

MPs in the portfolio for defence and military veterans were told about the amendments during a meeting on Wednesday.

The department's acting director for legal, Celeste Jordaan, said the purpose of the amendment was to do away with ambiguities in the current act.

“The purpose for the amendment is to remedy the ambiguities and the disparities that appear in the act as it is, and we are also going to be addressing the challenges that arise with the dispensing of benefits,” said Jordaan.

Jordaan said one challenge being addressed was the definition of a military veteran. “We have felt that the definition needs to be scrutinised and the wording looked at.

“We also need to look at the means test to see whether it's feasible to have one, and if we should have one. A means test would obviously qualify or disqualify people regarding benefits,” said Jordaan.

She said the department was also looking at dependents, including spouses, regarding them receiving benefits the military veterans are getting.

The amendment comes as military veterans, mainly aligned to the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), have embarked on protests across the country complaining about how they are treated.

Late last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a high-level team, chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza, and has held several meetings with veterans' associations.

The MKMVA, in particular, has come under fire for apparently using members during protests who looked too young to have been involved in the armed struggle against the apartheid regime.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has gone as far as calling some of them thugs.

Jordaan said the bill has been circulated to all the recognised veterans' associations to get their inputs and comments.

The department's acting director-general, Gen Derrick Mgwebi, reporting back on the work of the high-level team, told the same meeting that veterans were opposed to an introduction of a means test to see who qualifies as a military veteran.

“Military veterans [argue] that all these benefits should not be means-tested because when they took up arms against the government of the time, there was no question of a means test and therefore they are entitled, all of them,” said Mgwebi. 

The committee heard that the department was working on an online system, together with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), to help it clean up its database.

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