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Keynote address by Deputy President Shipokosa Paulus Mashatile at the Memorialisation and Honouring of the 21 former MK freedom fighters event, Orlando Community Hall, Soweto

Programme Director;
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Thandi Modise,
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
Our esteemed Military Veterans,
Government officials,
Members of the media,

Today is one of those important and historic moments which must go down in the annals of history as we witnessed the handover and unveiling of tombstones of the 21 fallen heroes who were former Umkhonto we Size operatives who perished between 1986 and1990.

This handover ceremony and engagement with the family members of those fallen heroes is important for two basic reasons – the first is that we are living up to the constitutional injunction which enjoins us to “Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; and to Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”.

The second one which is of equal importance is that by today’s unveiling ceremony, we hope to bring closure to the suffering and agony of the families of these heroic combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe who have also bravely and quietly endured the pain of the loss of their loved ones in the course of the struggle for liberation.

It is a matter of importance and historical significance that these combatants that we are honouring today lost their lives during a very turbulent period in our history and strive for our democratic freedom.

For us to understand the immense contribution made by these comrades to the victory of the democratic forces and the demise of the apartheid regime we need to reflect on the extra-ordinary sacrifices that have been made by those who have played a direct role in liberating this country from an unjust system which prioritised the interest of a minority.

As for the families here today and many other families, you can testify of the extreme hardships being experienced when your loved ones departed for unfamiliar territories with so many uncertainties. These liberation heroes have also made enormous sacrifices, including the disruption of their families' unity, in order to secure the freedom we enjoy today.

As we continue to honour the memory of our fallen uMkhonto we Sizwe military veterans, we pay tribute to those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. We will never forget their selflessness, courage, and commitment to defending our nation.

We are gathered here today, reminded of the bravery and steadfast commitment of these individuals, who felt a deep obligation to serve and act in the interest of what was best for the country in the fight for liberation.

They demonstrated remarkable courage and strength in the face of adversity, showing unwavering determination and fortitude in the most difficult of situations.

Unfortunately, many of our liberation heroes never saw the dawn of democracy that was ushered in 1994. However, they have paid the ultimate price with the hope of a South Africa that we have today.


Allow me to briefly remind you of the reasons why these MK military veterans chose to form part of our liberation movement and campaigns against the apartheid regime.

The journey of South Africans before 1994 was a challenging and arduous one. For decades, the country endured the oppressive system of apartheid, a system that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against the majority black population.

This system denied black South Africans the capacity to exercise fundamental human rights, such as the right to vote, access to equal access and quality education and healthcare, and the freedom to move around freely throughout the country without restriction.

Throughout the years of apartheid, black South Africans endured a multitude of challenges, including violence, discrimination, and economic hardship. They forcefully displaced many individuals from their residences and communities, transferring them to densely populated and disadvantaged townships, also leading to the fragmentation of families and communities at large.

Despite facing immense challenges and brutal crackdowns by the previous government, the people of South Africa never gave up their fight for freedom and equality.

For these reasons, prominent leaders such as Nelson Mandela founded this paramilitary wing of the African National Congress. They served as the nation's frontline defenders, fighting against an oppressive government; as a result, they remain our national heroes and on whose foundation we should bulid to further advance the country’s developmental priorities.

It is because of the contribution of these liberation martyrs that our nation has triumphed. However, we must bear in mind that our freedom was never free. It came at the ultimate cost, leaving an indelible mark on many families, some of whom are still here today.

As we remember and commemorate their sacrifice, it is important for us to not only honor their memory but also to ensure that their legacy lives on. We must continue to support and care for our veterans and their families.

We must strive to create a society that values and respects the sacrifices made by MK veterans and their families. The greatest honor would be to reflect on the true cost of war and its impact on the families and communities of these fallen heroes. It is for this reason that we have a collective duty to protect our democratic gains as we must be united, now more than ever to overcome and break free from the shackles of poverty and high levels of inequality. We face a common enemy of under-development which need a more focused response to ensure that we are able to improve the quality of people’s lives.

Equally, we are also here today as representatives of our people and leaders in your own right. We therefore need to call upon your leadership as families, veterans, elders and community leaders to forge a renewed commitment to take our struggle forward, to address all of our development objectives that will set us on a path of development for growth and prosperity. 


It is regrettable that some veterans and their families are still struggling with poverty after thirty years of democracy.

Sadly, most of these brave men and women were never able to save for retirement or their children's futures by funding health care plans or pensions, or by looking into different options for skills development or financing for their schooling.

As a result, it is critical for our government and people to express their gratitude to our nation's veterans for their service. One way to do this is to ensure that they have access to the socio-economic support, benefits, and empowerment opportunities they need to live fulfilling lives.

Rest assured, the government is actively working to bring about the change you deserve. Through the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans, we are committed to addressing the concerns and needs raised with the government regarding veterans' benefits, support, and improving access and services to our community of military veterans.

As the ANC-led government, we are committed to providing support to the families of MK veterans in various ways, including financial assistance, to ensure they can lead fulfilling lives. Having personally witnessed the hardships endured by our people in their fight for freedom, I feel a deep sense of obligation that we really need to acknowledge and do our utmost to support them and their families for the sacrifices they made to liberate our country.

We should commemorate the sacrifices of our heroes and heroines with the necessary respect and dignity, and our collective commitment should help ensure this happens.

This government is therefore striving to achieve greater policy alignment in the government's service delivery function, specifically concerning the services offered to military veterans and their dependents.

We are actively working with the military veteran community to achieve the objectives of the Military Veterans Act of 2011, which aim to improve the quality of life for them and their dependents, enabling socio-economic progress.

As South Africans, we can honor the fallen military veterans by visiting a local war memorial or military cemetery and perhaps laying flowers or wreaths, as we did today. We must also contribute to organizations that provide assistance and support to veterans and their families.

It is also important for elderly people to take time to educate others, especially younger generations, about the sacrifices made by uMkhonto we Sizwe and other military veterans across the spectrum to protect this country and make it as peaceful as it is.

As we approach the upcoming election, let us commit ourselves to working for a free, fair, and peaceful elections. Let us also commit to resolving our differences through peaceful means, where the sacrifices of our veterans are truly honored and respected.

In closing, let us remember the words of John F. Kennedy when he said: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them."

May we always remember and honor the sacrifices of our fallen MK military veterans, and may we strive to live up to the ideals for which they gave their lives. The first step is to exercise our right to vote by voting on the 29th of May. As responsible citizens, we have the right to vote under the Constitution's Bill of Rights and should utilise this right to further our democratic ideals.

I thank you.

 Union Building