MK council guns for ‘fake’ vets

The ANC must deal decisively with youngsters falsely claiming to be veterans of its former armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). So said Thabang Makwetla, the deputy correctional services minister and a senior member of the MK Military Veterans Council.

In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, ahead of the council’s national assembly meeting on Saturday, the former deputy defence minister added that a number of fraudulent veterans were benefiting unduly from the R400‑million reserved by the government to provide social benefits for bona fide MK veterans.

“In a situation where we have fraudulent members within the veterans community, what it means is that we’re going to have citizens who are accessing resources of the state, services of the state, that they do not deserve. These are taxpayers’ monies,” said Makwetla.

See also: Booing is unhealthy, says Umkhonto veteran

Since President Jacob Zuma took over as ANC leader in 2007, so-called MK veterans, usually dressed in full military fatigues, have often been used to intimidate his opponents.

In April, the MK Military Veterans Association set tongues wagging when it fielded a group of young-looking “veterans” outside the ANC’s Johannesburg headquarters to defend Zuma against a Democratic Alliance protest.

Their youthful appearance raised questions about their legitimacy as former combatants of an armed wing that was disbanded in 1993.

“It’s unacceptable to have young South Africans, who of course have an admiration for the legacy of MK, now self-styling themselves as bona fide members,” Makwetla said.

But the veterans association’s chairperson, Kebby Maphatsoe, this week defended the young-looking MK veterans.

He insisted that those who were seen outside Luthuli House in April were bona fide MK members who belonged to the youngest detachment of MK, which was recruited between the late 1980s and 1992. Some of them, he said, were as young as 14 at the time.

“I can vouch that those who were at Luthuli House are MK members. They left [the country] in 1991 and 1992. They were the last generation. I can call them now and say come and see,” Maphatsoe said.

“I know them. Some of them were very young. I used to call them ‘Small’. ‘Hey, Small!’ I used to say.”

Former MK combatant and South African National Defence Force member Major General Enoch Mashoala also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the young MK members he saw outside Luthuli House last month.

Although he agreed that teenagers as young as 14 did join MK in its later years, he said some of those outside the ANC headquarters were too young to have been part of the organisation.

“It’s 23 years into democracy. Assuming someone [at the Luthuli House march] is 30 years old, it means that particular individual might have joined at the age of seven. I don’t remember in my history of MK where people would join at the age of seven,” he said.

Maphatsoe believes that those who were raising questions about the young members’ credentials were being used in factional battles and were ignoring the four generations of MK, which spanned the 1960s to 1990s.

“The problem is that there are still people who are angry about MK. There are factions in the ANC and these factions are playing themselves out here. And these people who are talking do not understand the generations of MK. They think it ended in the 1980s. That’s not true,” he said.

But he agreed with Makwetla that those who are fraudulently receiving state benefits should be found and dealt with decisively.

Concerns about fraud among so-called MK veterans predate the current anxieties expressed by the veterans’ council and association.

In 1994, Mashoala was involved in setting up a process to verify and formalise the MK database.

This process, which ran until 2003, was flawed, leaving some who considered themselves bona fide MK members out of the database and allowing other, possibly fake, members to make their way into the system.

In 2012, the department of military veterans reopened the process and Mashoala asked the Hawks to investigate fraudulent beneficiaries, but the investigation never took place.

“What I was envisaging was to have a member of the Hawks who can actually arrest these individuals if they are being found to attempt to defraud the system or the state,” Moshoala said.

“But unfortunately, despite requests for that assistance, it was never given. So then it was becoming easier for people to come and try their luck, knowing that there won’t be any recourse,” Moshoala said.

According to Maphatsoe, who is also deputy minister of defence and military veterans, to date there have not been any arrests linked to false claims of MK membership.

The department of military veterans has a database of between 14 000 and 15 000 verified veterans from MK, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army and the armed wings of other liberation organisations.

With a budget of R600‑million allocated to the military veterans department for the 2016-2017 financial year, R400‑million was used to provide benefits and services such as housing assistance, medical aid and bursaries to the veterans.

Although it couldn’t yet quantify how many people had been found to be false claimants and the amount of state money that had been lost to them, the department said it was aware of attempts to defraud the system.

“We are picking up, from time to time now, a lot of attempts to defraud the system. But we are hoping that, by end of June, we’ll have clearer figures,” department spokesperson Mbulelo Musi said on Thursday.

Next month, the veterans’ council and association will meet for a four-day joint gathering where, among other matters, issues of membership will be discussed.

Following the ANC’s loss of support in last year’s municipal elections, divisions have begun to appear among the MK veterans.

Whereas those belonging to the veterans council have called for the dissolution of the ANC’s national executive committee, those belonging to the veterans association have continued to defend Zuma.

The two groups are hoping to thrash out their differences ahead of a consultative conference due to be held by the troubled ANC later this year.

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Dineo Bendile
Dineo Bendile works from Johannesburg. Political reporter. BLACK. Dineo Bendile has over 2712 followers on Twitter.

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