Vote to honour sacrifices of military veterans 

Today is one of those important and historic moments which must go down in the annals of history as we witnessed the handover and unveiling of tombstones of the 21 fallen heroes who were former Umkhonto we Size operatives who perished between 1986 and 1990.  

This ceremony and engagement with the family members of those fallen heroes is important for two reasons – the first is that we are living up to the constitutional injunction which enjoins us to, “Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; and to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.” 

The second one, which is of equal importance, is that by today’s unveiling ceremony, we hope to bring closure to the suffering and agony of the families of these heroic combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe who have also bravely and -quietly endured the pain of the loss of their loved ones in the course of the struggle for liberation. 

As for the families today and many other families, you can testify of the extreme hardships being experienced when your loved ones departed for unfamiliar territories with so many uncertainties.  

These liberation heroes have also made enormous sacrifices, including the disruption of their families’ unity, in order to secure the freedom we enjoy today. 

As we continue to honour the memory of our fallen military veterans, we pay tribute to those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. We will never forget their selflessness, courage and commitment to defending our nation. 

Unfortunately, many of our liberation heroes never saw the dawn of democracy that was ushered in 1994. However, they have paid the ultimate price with the hope of a South Africa that we have today. 

The journey of South Africans before 1994 was a challenging and arduous one. For decades, the country endured the -oppressive system of apartheid. 

Despite facing immense challenges and brutal crackdowns by the previous government, the people of South Africa never gave up their fight for freedom and equality. It is because of the contribution of these liberation martyrs that our nation has triumphed. However, we must bear in mind that our freedom was never free. It came at the ultimate cost, leaving an indelible mark on many families, some of whom are still here today. 

The greatest honour would be to reflect on the true cost of war and its impact on the families and communities of these fallen heroes. It is for this reason that we have a collective duty to protect our democratic gains as we must be united, now more than ever to overcome and break free from the shackles of poverty and high levels of inequality.  

It is regrettable that some veterans and their families are still struggling with poverty after thirty years of democracy. 

Sadly, most of these brave men and women were never able to save for retirement or their children’s futures by funding health care plans or pensions, or by looking into different options for skills development or financing for their schooling. As a result, it is critical for our government and people to express their gratitude to our nation’s veterans for their service.  

Through the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans, we are committed to addressing the concerns and needs raised with the government regarding veterans’ benefits, support, and improving access and services to our community of military veterans. 

Having personally witnessed the hardships endured by our people in their fight for freedom, I feel a deep sense of obligation that we really need to acknowledge and do our utmost to support them and their families for their sacrifices. 

As South Africans, we can honour the fallen military veterans by visiting a local war memorial or military cemetery and perhaps laying flowers or wreaths, as we did today. We must also contribute to organisations that provide assistance and support to veterans and their families. 

As we approach the upcoming election, let us commit ourselves to working for a free, fair, and peaceful elections. Let us also commit to resolving our differences through peaceful means, where the sacrifices of our veterans are respected. 

In closing, let us remember the words of John F Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” 

May we always remember and honour the sacrifices of our fallen MK military veterans, and may we strive to live up to the ideals for which they gave their lives. The first step is to exercise our right to vote by voting on the 29th of May.  


  • This is an edited version of the speech -delivered by Deputy President Paul Mashatile during the memorialisation and honouring of the 21 Former MK Freedom Fighters Event, Orlando Community Hall, Soweto on Thursday.

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