As the 2024 elections draw closer, the Swapo-led government finds itself stuck between a rock and hard place, to either submit to veterans’ demands or risk suffering at the polls.
The stern ultimatum to the government has been placed on the table by Former Refugees Repatriation Association Namibia (FRRAN). The association claims to have over 4 000 members.
Next November, Namibians will elect a new president and National Assembly members.
Now, a group of Swapo war veterans under the rallying cry of “no pay, no vote”, are demanding an increment of the monthly grant, fishing quotas, mining concessions and trainings.
They must either be paid or they will not vote for the ruling party or its presidential candidate.
“They must not let us turn those elections into what just happened in Zimbabwe,” threatened the association’s president, Matheus Nangolo.
The FRRAN will also throw spanners in Swapo’s works by rallying the public not to cast their votes.
Since the inception of the ministry tasked with addressing the concerns of war veterans in 2006, a range of programmes have been put in place, aimed at acknowledging liberation struggle veterans’ contributions.
In an interview with this publication recently, members of FRRAN placed their demands on top of the monthly grant of N$2 200 they already receive from the State.
“Most of us receive a mere N$2 200 per month, how does the government expect veterans to survive on this amount when the level of inflation is too high in our country?” complained Nangolo.
Approached for a comment, defence and veteran affairs minister Frans Kapofi did not mince his words.
“There is no money,” the ever-composed Kapofi said bluntly.
Kapofi said the government is currently paying out N$170 000.
“If they have resorted to report their concerns to you [media], then you must give them answers, but the government doesn’t have more money to accommodate extra initiatives,” said the seemingly annoyed Kapofi.
Nangolo challenged the politician’s position, raising doubts about the source of funds for the Heroes’ Day celebration.
The event cost a little over N$2 million to pull off, according to reports.
The FRRAN leader was also at pains over monthly benefits that are unevenly distributed among veterans, positing a picture of some veterans being more important than others.
“Some receive N$5 000 on top of the N$2 000, then others receive N$4 000 on top of the N$2 200 and then others receive N$3 000,” he complained.
He further added that top officers and officials who are on retirement are receiving different amounts ranging from N$18 000 to N$80 000, demanding that everyone who was in exile, including soldiers, those who went on diplomatic missions and studies should be granted an equal opportunity as they all unchained Namibia from the yoke of apartheid.
Their demands do not end there as they also want fishing quotas and individual shareholding certificates.
Mining rights also form part of their demands.
The benefits should also trickle down to their offspring.
“We want children born in exile to be included as well,” Nangolo demanded.
The veterans’ affairs ministry has been running a programme, called the Individual Veterans Programme (IVP), through which veterans apply for funding to initiate cash-generating projects, worth between N$150 000 and N$200 000.
Some veterans have insisted on hard cash over projects.
Therefore, Cabinet took a decision in 2021 to give a lump sum payment but at a reduced amount of N$170 000 to qualifying veterans.
This will cost the government, whose resources have dwindled in recent years, about N$100 million and will benefit 11 000 veterans.
“What about other benefits? Some veterans received farms while others were built houses but that didn’t benefit everyone. Where are we expected to live if we are not built houses and given farms like others?” he questioned.
This paper sought views of political commentators to gauge neutral perspectives.
Political analyst Rui Tyitende said;“It speaks to the general sense of entitlement that Swapo has created across its rank and file. Veterans will continue to be compensated and overcompensated for their real and imagined contribution towards the second phase of the country’s liberation struggle,” the sharp-tongued Tyitende said.
Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah holds the belief that veterans, as true heroes, are individuals who traversed forests to confront military enemies, but whose contributions are overlookded.
“They should take centre stage when it comes to heroes and heroines of this country.
“The problem is that events to celebrate heroes and heroines are centred around leadership and many people in leadership didn’t face the battlefront like those people did,” explains Kamwanyah.
Consequently, he perceives their grievances as originating from a sense of anger due to being overshadowed by politicians.
Comments sent earlier this week to Swapo went unanswered.