As leaders of the MK Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) sang songs about unity and vowed to work together in the run-up to their conference, two of their members disrupted a media briefing at Luthuli House on Monday, accusing the leaders of sidelining ordinary Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) veterans.
The drama started with an elderly man who arrived carrying an ANC placard.
He sat down alongside reporters and waited for the briefing to start. As former South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief Siphiwe Nyanda stood up and read the statement, the elderly man stood up and demanded answers about Nokuthula Simelane, an MK operative who was abducted and killed by the apartheid-era security police.
“You have never held a press conference about comrade Simelane, she disappeared after you seconded us to come fight inside the country…I was also arrested, you never called all of us into a meeting …this woman was killed…why are you here today?” the elderly man asked Nyanda, before security threw him out.
The man had written “Tell us about Nokuthula Simelane, Siphiwe Nyanda” at the back of the African National Congress (ANC) placard, and waved this handwritten message in front of the media cameras.
A few minutes later another man walked in slowly, and accused Thabang Makwetla, also Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Service, of hijacking the MKMVA and doing nothing for the veterans.
“No one is special MK cadre here…we have houses and jobs today because of you guys…comrades Gabuza and Makwetla never did anything for us…never. There will be no so-called conference,” he said before walking out.
The deep divisions between the MK leaders showed last year when Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kebby Maphatsoe and his committee rubbished a special council organised by Nyanda and others at Nasrec, Johannesburg to unite the former ANC anti-apartheid soldiers. Maphatsoe had called the gathering that of “empty tins”.
The Nyanda group in turn boycotted an MKMVA gala dinner in December last year, along with several ANC top leaders. President Jacob Zuma, who was scheduled to give a key-note address, also skipped the event due to “ill-health”, Maphatsoe said told guests at the gala dinner.
He told reporters on Monday that he has apologised to Nyanda and other members.
“We went overboard for calling them empty tins and we have apologised. As an MK cadre, you should not be afraid to stand up here in front of media and apologise and say we went overboard…I was called to order by other members,” said Maphatsoe.
He said the two men were known members of the MKMVA, and that they didn’t have to raise their concerns at a media briefing.
“This is not the right platform for them to come and behave in the manner that they did. We will speak to them but we condemn this,” said Maphatsoe.
Nyanda said the mother body, the ANC itself, was in “dire straits”.
“You can make deductions about what just happened here, but we have been saying the state of the organisations and the ANC itself is of grave concern. We are here to resolve those issues and doing everything in our power to attend to these problems. We have spoken to the leadership of the ANC about how we can resolve these problems because the ANC itself is in dire straits… we want to do everything in our power to unite the MK”.
The MKMVA council met on January 31 and agreed to hold a joint press conference, even though the other faction of the MKMVA had wanted to hold their own briefing last week, said Nyanda.
Maphatsoe said the organisation would yet achieve unity.
“Be assured that we will be united as one when we go to the conference. The Nasrec resolutions to take care of our soldiers, their welfare and son are also MKMVA resolutions…together we will make sure we change the lives of our comrades as we move forward,” he said.
The date and venue for the MKMVA national conference is still to be announced.