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article imageReconciliation theme at Armed Forces Day in South Africa Special

By Christopher Szabo     Dec 16, 2010 in World
Pretoria - South Africa has belatedly taken steps to alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of military veterans who fought on both sides during the country’s struggle for democracy by launching a Department of Military Veterans.
President Jacob Zuma was speaking at a Reconciliation Day gathering of veterans and serving members of the Defence Force. The event was to have included parades and fly-pasts, but was scaled down because of unusually heavy rain and moved to a nearby town hall.
The day also doubles as Armed Forces Day. The event was attended by foreign military dignitaries and cabinet members along with the media,including Digital Journal, emphasized the importance of reconciliation for South Africans.He told the attendees:
South Africa s President Jacob Zuma.
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.
Our definition of a military veteran is in itself a demonstration of reconciliation. We define a military veteran as a South African citizen who rendered military service to any of the military organisations which were involved on all sides of South Africa’s liberation war from 1960 to 1994.
Zuma was referring to the creation of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) out of the former South African Defence Force (SADF), the militaries of the former homelands or “Bantustans” and the guerrilla movements which were the armed wings of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
He added that military veterans also included all those who served the former Union of South Africa when the country had Dominion status within the British Empire. These are the veterans of WWI and WWII. Those who have served in the SANDF and have resigned or left the service with an honourable discharge will naturally be added to the list of veterans.
 Rain stopped play   or at least the parades. Here a Namacurra harbour patrol boat finds itself in i...
"Rain stopped play", or at least the parades. Here a Namacurra harbour patrol boat finds itself in its element.
He added:
The fact that we served on opposite sides during the liberation war is history we can never change. However, we can change the present and the future. We can and should work together to rebuild this country with the same energy that we used to fight for freedom or to protect the apartheid status quo then.
The South African president said his government had been aware for some time of the plight of many military veterans who had not been able to adjust to civilian life or had fallen foul of difficult economic times:
Some of the veterans, who fought with all they had to break the shackles of the apartheid system, are also today largely destitute.
Zuma described the efforts various government departments were making to provide housing, pensions and grants, as well as the upkeep of military heritage, such as monuments to the fallen. He also called on the private sector to help, because the government could not meet all the needs alone.
The South African-designed and built Rookat (Caracal) armoured car.
The South African-designed and built Rookat (Caracal) armoured car.
Zuma also praised the SANDF, especially its role in helping to bring peace and stability to the African continent. However, after praising the military men and the heroes of the past, he pointed out the harsh reality of war and the need to learn lessons from it:
Wars destroy families, wars impoverish nations. Wars bring grief and untold suffering to both the victors and the vanquished.
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