/ 14 June 2009

State ‘spying’ on MK vets

The activities of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) are being investigated by the National Intelligence Agency, the vets’ national chairperson, Kebby Maphatsoe has alleged.

In an interview this week, Maphatsoe said the association has reliable information, including documents, that the NIA is watching the ANC’s former military wing.

The NIA, through its spokesperson Lorna Daniels, would neither confirm nor deny the claim.

This is the first indication that the Jacob Zuma government, which was partly installed with the veterans’ support, is wary of the MKMVA’s potential for political disruption.

Maphatsoe said the NIA had closely watched the vets’ recent march — in military uniform — on the offices Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

The veterans have emerged as a new force in South African politics following their public support for Zuma in the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, 14 years after Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was disbanded and 11 years after the veterans’ association was formed to look after former MK soldiers.

The recent public parade of MK veterans clad in army uniforms at ANC political events, Zuma’s court hearings and protest marches has raised eyebrows — and fears that they may play the same anti-democratic role as war veterans in Zimbabwe.

When Zuma appeared at the Pietermaritzburg High Court last year, the MKMVA’s deputy national secretary, Ramatuku Maphutha, said there would be no country if Zuma did not become the state president.

The association distanced itself from the statement, with its general secretary, Ayanda Dlodlo, saying it was ”regrettable and irresponsible”.

During their confrontation with Zille, over her largely white provincial cabinet and a swipe at Zuma’s sexual behaviour, the vets threatened to render the Western Cape ungovernable.

Maphatsoe made it clear that the MKMVA will be a major actor in South African politics. ”People wanted to reduce the role the MK played in the revolution to nothing; they wanted to reduce us to a welfare organisation,” he said.

”But from Polokwane we got a very supportive ANC national executive committee that gave us the space to operate and they want to integrate us back into the structures of the ANC.”

Maphatsoe said the MKMVA’s political activism had been resuscitated because of a need for political education in the ANC. ”Our lives in exile were politics more than armed struggle. The richness that we have in the MK members should be directed into the ANC structures,” he said.

He insisted that the former soldiers would continue wearing the MK uniform because it was part of their ”heritage, history and legacy”.

But discussions were under way in the organisation on whether veterans should wear the uniform during protest marches, as ”we’ve got one army now; it is the SANDF”.

The MK uniform, popular at events to celebrate MK’s anniversary on December 16 and at funerals of its members, became a regular feature after 2007.

Crystallising fears about the potential direction of the MKMVA, military analyst Romer Heitman said this week: ”If you’re living next door to Zimbabwe and you know what the Zanu-PF veterans have been doing there, you have reason to be worried.”

Maphatsoe countered that South Africans should stop fearing MK vets. ”MK by its nature is not a rebel or a gangster organisation, it is a political ally. People should not see the MKMVA as a threat, but as a resourceful organisation.”