San and Khoi ex-soldiers still not forgiven

Last week’s South African High Court judgement that former soldiers from indigenous groups cannot be considered for re-integration into the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is extremely unfortunate since it perpetuates an unfair characterisation of the Khoi and San soldiers who were part of the SANDF prior to 1994 as being guilty of complicity with the apartheid regime, and therefore deserving of retribution and reprisal.

Delme Cupido's picture

Author

Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

September 17th, 2012

Last week’s South African High Court judgement that former soldiers from indigenous groups cannot be considered for re-integration into the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is extremely unfortunate since it perpetuates an unfair characterisation of the Khoi and San soldiers who were part of the SANDF prior to 1994 as being guilty of complicity with the apartheid regime, and therefore deserving of retribution and reprisal.

Not only does this ignore the extreme marginalisation and vulnerability of the San, and the fact that the Apartheid state did not offer people from these communities any real choice in the matter, but it also does not account for the differential treatment given to former soldiers in the homeland armies, white conscripts and the Oshiwambo recruits drafted into the notorious Koevoet unit in Namibia – many of whom have found a place in the new SANDF.

At its worst, this attitude has led to acts of violence against San communities in Namibia. As recently as the year 2000, Khwe communities in Namibia complained to human rights organisations about several incidents of severe brutality, torture and maltreatment at the hands of Namibia’s Special Field Forces.

To this day, community meetings amongst the Khwe are monitored by intelligence operatives who clearly regard the San as potential ‘enemies of the state’. Similar abuses were reported in southern Angola when the Portuguese retreated from Angola after the war of independence.

Many of the San and Khoi soldiers – about 14,000 of whom have been campaigning for re-integration – are now residing in abject poverty in places like Platfontein and Schmidtsdrift, having been abandoned first by both the apartheid army and then the new SANDF.

Judge Moses Mavundla expressed some sympathy with their plight but the tone of his judgment is remarkably patronising – describing the Khoi and San soldiers as “pitiable”, “myopic” and “politically naïve” – and deeply problematic. Perhaps it is for this reason that he does not interrogate the apparent discrimination and unfairness of the decision to force these soldiers to vacate their employment with the SANDF in favour of not only the former liberation movements’ armed wings, but also the homeland armies that helped to prop up apartheid.

From a legal perspective, the judge’s conclusion that the applicants did not have a legitimate expectation to be heard would seem to fly in the face of both democratic norms, and the principles of natural justice which give individuals and communities the right to be heard in decisions which will have an impact on their rights and freedoms.

Judge Mavundla accepted that these soldiers were ‘left out’ when the process took place in 1994 to integrate the SA Defence Force and the defence forces of the so-called independent homelands with the armed wings of the ANC and the PAC. Yet he went on to rule that the integration process had finished with the Termination of Integration Intake Act of 2001 and then dismissed the applicant’s case.

However, he did call on the Defence Minister to “address their concerns in the spirit of the constitution” – indicating that he believes that they do have cause for some form of redress.

Hopefully, Judge Mavundla’s decision will be taken on appeal, as it would seem to me that the issues at the heart of this case require further and deeper interrogation by those charged with upholding the constitutional promise of equality and dignity, and in taking into account our professed commitment to reconciliation in the new South Africa.

About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.

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