It is a great honour and privilege to have this opportunity to address this August House and to share with you Honourable Members the Government efforts since 1990, in addressing the plight of veterans of the National Liberation Struggle of Namibia.
Namibia achieved Independence on 21 March 1990, closing the dark chapter of foreign occupation and rule which stretched over one hundred years and ushering in the dawn of freedom, independence and democracy. This was brought about by Namibian gallant sons and daughters through their untiring efforts. Many of these people, the veterans, sacrificed their lives, their properties and even their dignity.
I would therefore, before I proceed with my statement, like to salute the veterans of the National Liberation Struggle:
? These are people who were members of the liberation forces;
? These are people who consistently and persistently participated in the armed struggle or engaged in any political, diplomatic or underground activity in furtherance the liberation of Namibia;
? I am talking about those who were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, people who were severely beaten up or killed by the oppressors whether in Namibia or elsewhere, because of their participation in the liberation struggle or of any offence closely connected to the struggle for Namibia's freedom.
That is why Namibia as a country, under the SWAPO lead Government, continues to recognize and appreciate their efforts in bringing about the freedom that we are enjoying today. I am aware that not all their aspirations have been met. I am also aware that the veterans' needs are complex and sensitive, because they are from different backgrounds: their needs are different and they are at different levels of development.
Some are poor, others are able to make ends meet and a few are relatively well off. If the issues of veterans are not handled with considerable care, they could bring forth conflict and upheaval, resulting in undesired outcomes. It is therefore important that we handle the issues and needs of veterans with adequate consideration and due attention.
It is for this reason that the Government immediately after Independence devised a number of interventions to address their needs as a way of integrating them into society, both socially and economically.
The purpose of my statement is to brief you, Honourable Members, what the Government has done in addressing the plight of veterans in this country since Independence. In my briefing, I will also inform you on what is being planned for the veterans by my Ministry, something that needs your support.
We may recall that after the cease fire which was signed by South Africa and SWAPO in 1989 the fighting between the People's Liberation Struggle Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the South African Army occupation ceased. The last South African troops departed from Namibia, and the country gained its Independence on March 21, 1990. Many Namibians who were in exile returned home. I was honoured by SWAPO to have been appointed to lead the first group of people who returned from exile on 12 June 1989. After the repatriation, Namibians participated in the United Nations supervised elections in November 1989, which resulted in SWAPO winning a majority of over fifty percent of the vote.
At the beginning of the new Government, not much was done for the freedom fighters. However, later on the Government realised the need to address as a matter of urgency the welfare of the freedom fighters.
For this reason, various attempts were made to address the plight of veterans in Namibia by introducing several well-intended programs to uplift their living conditions but not much success has been achieved.
Some of the Government's efforts to address the plight of former freedom fighters before the establishment of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs include the following:
1. The first initiative to assist veterans was handing over of animals for animal husbandry purposes to some veterans. It is unfortunate that this program did not benefit many veterans as planned.
2. The second intervention was the creation of the Development Brigade (DBC) with the aim to empower veterans with skill development through training in fields of agriculture and construction.
3. There was the introduction of the, Social Integration Program for Ex-Combatants (SIPE). SIPE was created to contribute to the reintegration of ex-combatants into the civil society by providing them with self employment opportunities. This program targeted the 12,000 able bodied ex-combatants who have the potential to become economically active and who were registered by the Committee of Deputy Ministers.
4. The fourth intervention was the creation of the Peace Project. The Peace Project was born out of recommendations of the report of the Committee of Deputy Ministers in 1996. The purpose of this Project was to integrate veterans into a number of public offices such as Defense, Police, Correctional Services and State Owned Enterprises.
It was through this exercise that the field force (which is now under the Ministry of Safety and Security) was also established and many ex-combatants, both PLAN and SWATF, were recruited to serve there. On the other hand, ex-combatants with specific qualifications were integrated into the civil service. It is encouraging to note that all the ex-combatants that have been absorbed into different institutions continue to benefit from these initiatives and their lives have improved considerably.
5. The list is long Honourable Members, but I will fail in my duty if I do not mention the establishment of the War Veterans Subvention Act which was promulgated in 1999 through which the War Veterans Trust Fund was created. The objective of the War Veterans Trust Fund was to pay a monthly subvention to war veterans an~ dependants of deceased war veterans in accordance with the provision of the War Veteran Subvention Act. Due to lack of data on veterans then, only a small proportion of the ex-fighters benefited from this fund.
6. The Government also provided houses to some elderly and disabled PLAN fighters and former Robin Islanders. To date, ninety six (96) houses have been built and the program is continuing but covering other categories of veterans.
In monetary terms, the Namibian Government so far spent millions of dollars on ex-combatant programs that I just enumerated the period between 1990 and 2006.
These programs however, have been criticised for two main reasons:
Firstly, they have been very expensive on a per capita basis and ended up benefiting a few.
Secondly, some programs have been poorly coordinated involving a multitude of organisations and lacked clear organisational mechanisms.
Other challenges experienced in implementing these interventions were that (a) they did not have clearly defined goals, outcomes and outputs within a set time frame; (b) the lack of basic data on aspects such as the total number of male and female veterans, their location, levels of education and skills and their needs. Without such information, meaningful programs could not be designed to effectively support them.
Another challenge the Government faced at that time was the coordination of these activities. This means, there was no single focal entity to coordinate all the efforts of the Government aimed at addressing the plight of veterans in the country and evaluate the effectiveness of the Government initiatives and its longer-term viability.
This has led to a situation where the achievements of the Government in supporting the veterans remained largely unknown to the wider group of ex-combatants and the general public.
It was against this background that His Excellency, Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, by the power vested in him by Article 23, sub section (3) (g) of the Constitution, created the Ministry of Veterans Affairs in October 2006. The mandate of the newly created Ministry is to coordinate the efforts on all aspects related to addressing the plight of veterans in the country and to ensure that the needs and aspirations of the ex-combatants and other Veterans of the Namibian liberation struggle are properly addressed and coordinated.
Namibia now has a Ministry of Veterans Affairs which has put in place the necessary machineries to enable it to function according to its mandate. Before it started implementing its mandate, the first step of the new Ministry was to formulate and have an act of Parliament enacted, replacing the existing War Veterans Subvention Act of 1999 which was very limited in terms of beneficiaries. The enactment of the Veterans Act is the appreciation of the role of veterans played in the national liberation struggle.
It is also the State's acknowledgement of its responsibility to provide financial support to enable veterans and dependants of veterans reintegrate better in the Namibian society. While providing for financial assistance, the Veterans Act also aims at! assisting veterans and dependants of veterans to be involved in economic and commercial projects of their own choice to complement the integration processes.
Furthermore, the Veterans Act defines who a veteran is and makes provision for all those people who consider, themselves veterans to be registered. Through registration of veterans, the Government would be able to:
a) determine the number of veterans in the country;
b) determine their social and economic status; and
c) determine their form of contribution to the National Liberation Struggle;
The information collected through registration process will assist Government to improve the service delivered to veterans, in formulating appropriate laws, policies and interventions. The Veterans Act requires that even those veterans who were registered under the Social Integration Program for Ex-Combatants (SIPE) to be registered and be approved by the Veterans Board. Equally, people who waged the struggle for the National Liberation underground at home are also to be registered as veterans.
No I am going to inform you about the Government efforts by the Ministry of Veterans Affairs since it was established:
Some of the programs currently undertaken by the Ministry to address the plight of veterans include among others:
Support Package Program
The Ministry has put in a place ~he Support Package Program that provides the following assistance to veterans:
1. A Monthly Financial Assistance (subvention) of N$2,000 is paid to unemployed and those veterans whose income is below the tax threshold. When a deceased veteran who was receiving a monthly assistance subvention is survived by dependants (spouse and/or children under the age of 18), the spouse is entitled to receive fifty five per cent of the N$2,000and the children are entitled to receive an equal amount of forty five per cent (45) of the same N$2,000 to be equally divided among the children.
2. Under the same Support Package Program, the Ministry also provides medical assistance to veterans with health problems related to the liberations struggle. Veterans with physical disability are assisted to purchase prosthetics, mobility aids, hearing aids etc. Veterans with war related injuries are assisted with the cover of medical treatment at Government health institutions and facilities. For the 2009/2010 financial year, the Ministry has assisted two hundred (200) veterans with prosthetics, mobility aids (orthopedic shoes, wheel chairs, artificial legs), spectacles, dermatological treatment, respiratory systems and other treatment of war related ailments of the liberation struggle.
3. Through the same program, veterans who are traumatised by the war or by the effects of the war of the liberation struggle will receive counseling to be able to cope with the current situation. A consultation Stakeholders Workshop has taken place to determine what we can do in this regard and how the Stakeholders can assist the Ministry of Veterans Affairs in years ahead.
The Ministry is implementing projects as provided for by the Veterans Act, 2008. This will be a national programme to cater for all Namibian .', veterans who are in need.
As a benefit, all veterans are entitled to initiate and implement projects of their own choice to' a maximum of N$200,000 per approved viable project. At the end of September 2010, the Ministry has received four hundred (400) project proposals for possible funding by the Veterans Fund.
This is a big number and is also an indication that veterans are eager to run their own projects. It should be mentioned that the process of approving individual veterans projects has not yet started as the necessary mechanisms are being finalised.
Other benefits planned for the veterans and already approved by Cabinet include:
? Payment of Once-off Gratuity to Veterans of the national Liberation Struggle Another form of recognition of the veterans' contribution to the National Liberation Struggle which Cabinet has approved recently is the payment of fifty thousand Namibia dollars (N$50,000) per veterans as a lump sum (once-payment) to all veterans irrespective of gender. The modality on how to pay veterans this money is being worked out. I should mention to you, that the payment of this lump sum will require Government to make available two billion Namibia dollars (N $2.0 billion) to pay an estimated forty thousand (40,000) veterans for a period of three years.
May I inform you too, Honourable Members, that while it has been agreed to pay a lump sum of N$50,000 per veteran as a token of appreciation to those who are alive today, consideration will be given of those who sacrificed their lives during and after the struggle at an appropriate time after a thorough consultation with relevant institutions, for THEIR BLOOD WATERS OUR FREEDOM.
? Educational and Training Grants for Veteran and their Dependants
It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs to ensure the wellbeing of veterans and their dependants. This is also in line with the Third National Development Plan as a tool for implementing Vision 2030, which advocate to investing in people through education and skills development.
The purpose of the Educational and Training Grant is aimed at providing financial support to some veterans and dependants of veterans who wish to further their studies or obtain vocational skills at institutions of higher learning in Namibia to enable them to compete in the labour market and secure employment. This will ultimately result in the improvement of their living conditions. The program however, is not a replacement of the scholarship programs implemented by the Ministry of Education.
? Funeral Grant and Expenses The purpose of the Funeral Grant is to ensure that all deceased veterans of the liberation struggle are buried in a respectable and dignified manner. This benefit will be implemented through a funeral scheme which will be set up by the Ministry for veterans where a premium is paid to a company yet to be identified to run the scheme on behalf of the Ministry The money for this will be paid from the Veterans Fund.
The Funeral Grant will cover for any or all of the following services or cost: preparation of the body; mortuary fees; coffin; wreath; gravesite: transport of casket within the borders of Namibia; cremation fees (including urn); columbarium/niche and tombstone. This means that N$20,000 will be used for each burial of which N$10,000 is earmarked for the purchasing and erection of the tombstone and the rest is for other services.
? Land Resettlement Benefit
The Ministry of Veterans Affairs envisage assisting veterans with resettlement through participation in national programs on resettlement implemented by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement.
Once again, while the interventions aimed at improving the lives of veterans appear to be few; the amount of money that the Government has made available and that still needs to be made available, is huge, totaling N$3.4 billion.
I would like to state that the notion and sentiments that are expressed by our people that little or nothing has been done for the veterans of the liberation struggle is not true! The SWAPO lead Government has done a lot and will continue to do more for the people who brought about the independence of this country, just as it is done in other countries.
I must admit however, that the process of having all these benefits realised is slow. Yes, this is so because one has to' make sure the appropriate mechanisms are put in place to ensure that only those who are eligible receive the benefits. What is important is the thought and consideration that the Government has on veterans.
In conclusion Honourable Speaker, Honourable Members, it is the wish of our Government through the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, to ensure that veterans should know that we acknowledge that their contribution to the National Liberation Struggle was worthwhile. We will therefore, address and redress their plight in order to console and help to rehabilitate them: economically, socially, morally, physically, and spiritually before they depart for the mundane world from the country they so dearly loved, fought for and liberated.
I hope my statement has given you some insights on what has been done and what will be done by the SWAPO lead Government in addressing the plight of people who fought and brought about independence in this country.