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Opening remarks by Deputy President David Mabuza delivered at the engagement with Military Veterans in the Western Cape Province

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Thandi Modise,
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mr Thabang Makwetla,
The Chief Executive Officer of the Castle Control Board,
Our Esteemed Military Veterans,
Government officials,
Members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning,
To begin, we want to welcome everyone here today and thank you for taking time to attend this important gathering to agree on how we jointly work together in resolving the challenges faced by our nation's veterans.
We can never take for granted your presence and participation as it demonstrates your dedication in the initiative of finding long-term solutions to the difficulties that our nation's military veterans face every day.
Most importantly, we will never take for granted the critical role played by the military veterans from variety of armed forces, in the fight to overthrow the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The history of our liberation struggle can never be narrated without acknowledging the heroism and sacrifices of all our military veterans who committed their lives to the service of national freedom.
You trained and slept in bush camps, left your families and dedicated your lives to the wellbeing of our country.
You will forever remain heroes and heroes of our democracy.
Your efforts have liberated the country; today we are enjoying the benefits of democracy because of your selfless contribution. In the process, many of our military veterans lost opportunities to develop and advance themselves through education and available employment opportunities.
Most of these heroes and heroines did not have an opportunity to set aside their health and pension provisions to take care of their retired lives.
It is for this reason that both the government and the people must remain committed to ensuring that veterans of the armed forces are provided with the care, benefits and opportunities necessary to lead their lives with integrity and respect.
It is unfortunate that when we demobilised the combatants and integrated you into civilian life, you had to return to communities where opportunities for employment with your skills set are severely limited.
Many of you have been reduced to abject poverty and hopelessness; therefore, you have every right to demand a portion of the benefits that come with freedom.
It is for this reason that our government started a legislative process that eventually saw the enactment of the Military Veterans Act 18 of 2011, from which the Department of Military Veterans was established.
Since then, military veterans became entitled to benefits prescribed in the Act, and were able to raise grievances in relation to their perceived incapacity of the Department of Military Veterans to adequately dispense these benefits to their community.
It is for this reason that President Ramaphosa established the Presidential Task Team on the affairs of Military Veterans in the latter part of 2020, under the leadership of the Deputy President, to tackle the concerns raised on the livelihoods of military veterans.
Some of you will recall that in our initial meetings, all Provincial Premiers were called in order to assist in the amicable resolution of the challenges faced by military veterans. Our belief is that Provinces have a critical role to play in supporting military veterans, as they are closer to where our veterans live.
Since then, we have made an effort to interact directly with military veterans in their respective home provinces, as we are doing today, to agree on key issues that need to be resolved and addressed.
So far, we have already visited six provinces, namely; Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Free State, Mpumalanga, and North West.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are meeting you today to update you on progress that the Task Team has made in articulating its mandate through its seven workstreams.
Most importantly, this provincial visit offers us an opportunity
to reflect on the obstacles that might be delaying the process to enable you to access benefits that are prescribed in the Military Veterans Act such as military pension, housing, free access to military health services and all other related services.

Some of the obstacles we have identified that have caused a delay in the delivery of benefits constituted are:
• The negative impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the DMVs’ operations and performance;
• The constrained fiscal environment having a negative impact;
• The fact that implementation of high impact projects were awaiting approval;
• The management of the DMVs’ database.

Ladies and Gentleman,
Despite the difficulties we have encountered, we have made significant progress in addressing some of your challenges, including those faced by military veterans in the Western Cape Province.
With regard to the extension of the provision of housing support to the surviving dependents of Military Veterans, we are in a process of amending the Military Veteran Act to extend the provision to widows and dependants of the deceased Military Veterans. We are confident that the process will be completed soon.
Moreover, we are also improving the floor plan of the houses, and the remedial work on defective houses is underway in a number of housing projects including in Belhar.
These are some of examples of work been done in your province that you have highlighted, and during the course of the day, you will hear more when the progress reports are presented by the worsktreams.
Ladies and Gentleman
You may already know that we reached a milestone when the Presidential Task Team approved the Military Veterans Pension Policy.
In this regard, the Department has made budget provisions over the Medium-Term to ensure that military veterans receive their pensions.  Currently, it is working on the regulations to operationalise the implementation of the pension benefit provisions.
We are aware of the deficit that needs to be urgently filled by this policy, and we appeal to our veterans to be patient with the Ministry, which is currently preoccupied with the task.
This Presidential Task Team takes its mission and the continuing challenges faced by military veterans very seriously, and is committed to ensuring that the plight of military veterans is accorded the highest priority in every government programme across all levels of government.
Therefore, we are putting ourselves in the forefront and inviting military veterans to inform us of their difficulties, so that we can ensure that they receive the attention they deserve.

In addition, we take this opportunity to urge all officials who are employed in areas where they are required to provide services to Military Veterans to work diligently, with the empathy and demeanour required to serve this prestigious community.
The Task Team is ready to assist the Department of Military Veterans in accessing the additional resources to better serve this constituency.
As we move forward, it is crucial to properly facilitate a government-wide response that is both effective and coordinated, as well as a joint action plan that aims to address the unique challenges faced by our nation's veterans.

Part of the experience from the work of this task team has been the creation of coordinating structures in the Offices of Premiers, through which various grievances of military veterans are being timeously attended to.
As we interact with the Western Cape today, we call on the province to work collaboratively with the Department of Military Veterans in establishing a mechanism that will assist in closing the distance between the national Department of Military Veterans and military veterans located within the province.
In our discussions today, we need to reflect and agree on how we will strengthen institutional response mechanisms that allow us to promptly resolve issues raised by military veterans from time to time.

Specifically in this Province, there must be consensus on how we address peculiar issues facing our military veterans, and ensure the their socio-economic conditions improve.
In conclusion, as a society, that owes its very existence to the sacrifices of its own valiant sons and daughters, we must ensure that its military veterans and their families also have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the freedom they have helped to establish.
I thank you