BLOEMFONTEIN: President Jacob Zuma as the commander-in-chief of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) has bestowed military veterans with awards in recognition of their contribution to the country's freedom and democracy.
These are the people who contributed immensely and selflessly to the achievement of the country's democracy.
According to the 2011 Military Veterans Act, a military veteran is any South African who rendered military service to any of the military organisations, former statutory and liberation armies, which were involved on all sides of South Africa's liberation war from 1960 to 1993, served in the then Union Defence Force before 1961 or became a member of the SANDF after 1994 and has completed his or military training and no longer performs military duties, and has not been dishonourably discharged from his or her respective military organisation.
Recognising the military veterans at a ceremony in Bloemfontein on Thursday, Zuma said it was imperative to celebrate those who dedicated their lives to democracy. "Their sacrifices are not in vain, they sacrificed their lives so we can enjoy our freedom," he said.
He described the military veterans as people who dedicated their lives to liberating the country regardless of what the price of democracy was.
"People should not take our democracy for granted, there are people who died for it," he said, emphasising the need to reflect on the past.
He said military veterans had endured hardships imposed by the then apartheid government and that they deserved to be recognised.
"Some left their families and experienced pains so we can enjoy freedom," he said.
The military veterans were honoured in four categories, namely Platinum I, II, III and the fourth being the Gold Bravery Medal for those who executed acts of bravery.
Platinum Class I was given to the founding members of the former uMkhonto we Sizwe who distinguished themselves by significant acts of valour, conspicuous acts of bravery, daring and pre-eminent acts of self-sacrifice and extreme devotion to duty in the presence of an evil and oppressive apartheid regime thus paving the way for the obliteration of apartheid and the formation of a fully democratic South Africa.
Platinum II was awarded to members of the National High Command of uMkhonto we Sizwe and those arrested with them at Rivonia and who served with them in Robben Island.
Platinum Class III was awarded to members who were in the former Regional Command structures of uMkhonto we Sizwe organisation who distinguished themselves by significant acts of valour, conspicuous acts of bravery in the presence of an evil and oppressive apartheid state thus paving the way for the formation of a fully democratic South Africa.
Among the recipients was the late Chris Hani who was represented by his wife Limpho Hani who expressed her delight at the recognition of military veterans.
"I applaud government for recognising the military veterans," she said, adding that government must keep it up and continue to recognise them.
Former President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Goven Mbeki were awarded with Platinum Class II awards. Former President Thabo Mbeki was awarded Platinum Class I award.
Most of the veterans were represented by family members.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula described the veterans as ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times.
"They rose to the call because they wanted to protect their country and its people against apartheid ... today we honour our heroes and heroines, remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication," she said.
Since the inception of the Department of Military Veterans and enactment of the Military Veterans Act, Act no 18 of 2011, the department has accomplished many of its mandated tasks aimed at servicing and honouring veterans.
Recently, the department called on all military veterans to register so that they can access their benefits.
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