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'We heard loud bangs and went down like we do in the movies,' Thandi Modise after hostage drama

Siviwe Feketha Political reporter
Minister of defence Thandi Modise
Minister of defence Thandi Modise
Image: Sunday Times

“We needed ablution facilities. We had been stuck there for hours by the way without ablution facilities and therefore I think whatever the police may have used it would be within the permissible range.”

This is how defence minister Thandi Modise responded to questions on the how the SA Police Service’s elite special task force swooped into St George Hotel in Irene on Thursday night to intervene where she and minister in the presidency, Mondli Gungubele, and her deputy Thabang Makwetla were held hostage by a group of disgruntled military veterans.

The ministers had been meeting the group over their socioeconomic empowerment demands .

Modise said during the standoff, which later resulted in a hostage drama, there was enough restraint among ministerial protectors despite the ministers needing fresh air outside.

At least 56 military veterans were arrested after the hostage situation was diffused, but Modise slammed the act as both illegal and a violation of the ministers, adding that she would not back their release despite her commitment to sit down with the veterans to resolve their problems.

“There was a violation and the police responded. You can’t hold people against their will. If they do get released, let it be the process that is out there.  How it will unfold, we don't know but we do not want to set a precedent that I can commit any violation and the law will be put aside because it is me because I am a military veteran,” Modise said.

A military veteran herself, Modise said it was not expected for former liberation fighters to disrespect the rights of other citizens.

The military veterans are accusing the government of neglecting them and are demanding housing, economic empowerment and medical care from the state, among other things.

Modise likened the events of Thursday night to a “hostage movie”, saying it was dramatic when the elite police broke into the room where the military veterans had kept them and barricaded doors.

“The tables were turned upside down, not because they (police) hit people with them but because they were taken out of the way so that you clean the way so that victims can get up and run. When we heard those loud bangs we all went down like we do in the movies,” she said.

While several veterans were left injured during the scuffle, Modise said no person was shot.

“I can assure you that I have been in MK long enough to know that no bullet was fired in the room while I was there,” she said.

Gungubele condemned the behaviour of the veterans as unacceptable, adding that the government was looking into their needs with special focus under the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans.

“The deputy president (David Mabuza) has undertaken visits to meet provincial military veterans associations and provincial governments to assess some of the projects.

“The engagements between government and the associations have thus far been productive and cordial even though discussions have been difficult. So, in our view there was no reason for this group to act in an unlawful manner as it transpired last night,” Gungubele said.

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