Address by President Jacob Zuma to the Military Veterans Medals Parade Waterkloof Airforce Base
27 October 2012
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thabang Makwetla
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Secretary for Defence,
DG of Military Veterans,
Chief of the SANDF,
Members of the Parliament,
Executive Mayors and Councilors,
Distinguished Medals Recipients,
Comrades and Friends, Fellow South Africans,
We gather once more today as the SANDF holds the second parade to honour and recognise the contribution of members of the combatants of the Liberation Movement who have fought for freedom and democracy in our country.
We honour and memorialise our military veterans not as a favour or gesture. It is a constitutional and legal obligation to which we are committed. Our constitution enjoins us to “honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land”.
Section 3 of the Military Veterans Act, 18, of 2011 further instructs us as to honour and memorialise our military veterans.
We honour all these constitutional imperatives firmly believing and cognisant of the fact that the Military Veterans are the greatest heritage of any nation, more so our own.
We have chosen this day, the 27th of October, as the most fitting occasion to honour the veterans of the Luthuli Detachment. It was on this day 95 years ago, that the longest serving President of the ANC, Cde Oliver Reginald Tambo, was born.
It is his values of selflessness; commitment to duty and service; and discipline that we urge our Defence Force, in particular, to emulate.
Today we issue medals of honour to continue with our journey of redefining the country’s history to truly reflect our rich diverse past.
The medals are also being issued to further consolidate our march to reconciliation, nation building and the deepening our democracy.
These medals represent the recognition of those heroes and heroines who should be enshrined in our history for their sacrifices brought freedom to our people and our land.
As we did during the first parade on the 2nd August, we recognise the sacrifices of these patriots that were made under perilous and testing conditions.
We are here to confer medals of Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze in recognition of the invaluable heroic contributions made by the gallant fighters of the glorious Luthuli Detachment of uMkhonto we Sizwe.
The Luthuli detachment will always hold a special place in the history of MK, given that this was the very first group of combatants to carry out operations in the name of uMkhonto we Sizwe.
They believed in the MK Manifesto, and its timeless declaration, which included the following words;
“ The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now 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’’.
Like many of our freedom fighters, they too had to leave behind their beloved families behind, early childhood and go to distant and unknown lands is search of means to bring about freedom.
They did so faced by the possibility of detention, torture and long years of imprisonment on Robben Island and other prisons.
Yet they remained focused on the clarion call “victory or death, we shall win and liberate our country from apartheid and colonial subjugation.”
Many of them did so having full knowledge that they may face the gallows, but were not deterred nor intimidated by the possible eventuality of death.
Perhaps one amongst them that best epitomises this true spirit of resilience, and courage of the generation of these trailblazers was Vuyisile Mini.
Part of the first group of MK combatants to be hanged in 1964, together with Zinakile Mkaba and Wilson Khayinga, he symbolised the determination and valour of the Luthuli Detachment when he refused to divulge details that could have compromised the members of the High Command, even if for him it meant death.
As he was led to his final walk to the gallows, with that deep voice he courageously sang, walking tall with his head high, and warned the then Prime Minister “Nantsi Indod’ Emnyama Verwoerd, Passopa Nantsi Indod’ Emnyama Verwoerd”.
Programme Director, the Luthuli Detachment underwent various stages of both quantitative and qualitative growth since its birth on 16th December 1961.
It grew in numbers, in its role, place and stature in the struggle as well as society as a whole, both nationally and internationally. In its growth it profoundly touched the lives of millions of people at home and abroad and inspired many generations to come.
This it did during one of the most difficult periods in the history of the struggle, namely the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
We are here to honour and celebrate a generation, which from the very onset, history assigned one of the most difficult, complex and yet noblest tasks.
They were to play a role of being an inspiration; be the symbols of courage and determination; and laying the foundation of exemplary leadership conduct.
Their missions came at a time when the liberation movements were banned; the leadership in Rivonia was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment including the first Commander in Chief, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; its National Commissar, Walter Sisulu and others.
This is the generation that had to face a well-armed military might of the erstwhile South African Defence Force, using dynamites and small weapons, carrying out daring actions of sabotage, executing the almost impossible mission of trying to return home and pursue the struggle when there were, at the time no friendly borders.
They had to take part in various campaigns. They had to endeavour to re-establish national and leadership structures that had been practically seriously weakened nationally and regionally.
These are men and women who had to take part in various campaigns such as the Sabotage Campaign, Wankie/Sipolilo, Aventura, Sea Route vi Dar es Salaam, Sea Route via Mombasa, Kalomo (Recce into Rhodesia), Recce into Bostwana Livingstone Group, Caprivi, Nampula, Tete, Nyasa, Brynthirion (B5) with very little and no resources.
History has it on record that these campaigns played a pivotal in the resuscitating and inspiring the mass democratic struggles such as the 1973/74 workers strikes in Durban; the June 16 student uprisings in Soweto and throughout the length and breadth of the country from 1976; as well as other mass upheavals of the 1980’s.
The campaigns also contributed to the intensification of the armed struggle, the building of the ANC underground structures as well as international mobilisation against the racist regime.
All these culminated in the ushering of democracy on 27th April1994.
Thus far we have on record that being no more than 500 members as a Detachment, they individually and collectively, took part in the diverse and various epochs of the rich tapestry of the struggle for democracy.
Against all odds, they fulfilled their mission with aplomb. For that we on behalf of the people and the government, salute them!
May the souls of those who today we honour posthumously rest in everlasting peace with the knowledge that their sacrifices were not in vain!!
Today we complete an important chapter by honouring the trailblazers, the Luthuli Detachment.
Over the next few months to the end of the year, the department of Military Veterans and the SANDF will also honour other detachments of MK as we wind up the celebration of its 50th anniversary.
The government will also honour and recognise the contribution of those who fought as part of the Azanian people’s Liberation Army.
Military veterans are an important heritage of the country. For this reason, there are various projects underway to give effect to that legacy and heritage. Research is underway to make sure that all those who died both inside and outside our shores are duly honoured and memorialised accordingly.
One of these projects is the construction of the Matola Monument in Mozambique.
Next Janary President Guebuza of the Republic of Mozambique, and myself, will officially open the monument and Interpretive Centre, in memory of those who were senselessly murdered there in the early hours of the morning on January 30 1981. A heritage route is also underway to document the rich heritage and preserve our legacy.
The administration processes aimed at finalising the establishment of the Department of Military Veterans as a stand-alone department are being fast tracked. This is in order to ensure that proper systems are put in place to assist with the registration all our veterans; to ensure that they have access to the benefits and services we have all agreed on.
This is necessary to ensure that no one is left out and there are no fraudulent beneficiaries when the benefits are rolled out. We have already agreed that some of these benefits and services will include free education for children, housing, transport and medical care.
It is now 22 years since the Liberation Movement was unbanned resulting in the return of our people back into the country. Most of them returned back home with nothing after serving this country selflessly for so long.
Many of them have already passed on and many will follow, without having received these benefits.
We have directed all affected departments to treat the establishment of the Department with the urgency that it deserves. We have a constitutional and moral obligation to our veterans.
We need to ensure that our vision and goal of a dignified, united, empowered and self-reliant military veterans community is realised sooner rather than later.
In awarding these medals, we wish to emphasise that the South African struggle for liberation was never a racist struggle, but as a struggle against racism and all its manifestations.
It is not surprising therefore, that the Mkhonto Wesizwe manifesto contained these words;
“In these actions, we are working in the best interests of all the people of this country - black, brown and white - whose future happiness and well-being cannot be attained without the overthrow of the Nationalist government, the abolition of white supremacy and the winning of liberty, democracy and full national rights and equality for all the people of this country".
We thus remind all South Africans that the task of building a united South Africa continues. All of us, black and white, men and women, must participate actively in building unity and cohesion in our country and in promoting reconciliation.
Let me close by reminding you of the profound message of reconciliation from President Oliver Tambo uttered in December 1990 at the first ANC consultative conference after the unbanning of organisations. He said;
“We urge all those still harbouring doubts about a democratic future, to take courage in the knowledge that the generosity of the oppressed is matched only by their passionate hatred of the oppression of fellow human beings.
“Working together as fellow South Africans, we have it within our power to transform this country into the land of plenty for all, where the nightmare of apartheid will just be a faint memory of the past".
Working together we can do more!
I thank you.