In 1995, the funding of ex-combatant reintegration became the responsibility of the National Planning Commission (NPC), which established the Socioeconomic Integration Programme for Ex-Combatants (SIPE). These reintegration efforts had limited success in addressing grievances, and by the late 1990s, many of the former rank-and-file combatants who had not been incorporated into the NDF remained unemployed.
Between 1997 and 1998 there were a series of ex-combatant protests – dissatisfied former PLAN combatants staged a sit-in in the parliamentary gardens, while former-Koevoet members threatened to destabilize the country if their demands were not met. Years later in response, the Namibian Cabinet set up a technical committee to address the ex-combatant problem, and recommended that the government employ all eligible ex-combatants. This process was widely referred to as the ‘Peace Project’ that saw some 9 188 given posts in the military, and others were assimilated into the Ministry of Home Affairs, mainly the Special Field Force (SFF). The Ministry of Prisons and Correctional Services and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism employed 2 058, primarily as prison and game wardens. Five other ministries absorbed 3 446 ex-combatants and fighters (Metsola, 2006: 1122).
In 2006 the Ministry of Veterans Affairs was established to promote and implement projects and programmes that address the socio-economic needs of the veterans, including keeping the history of the national liberation struggle alive. The ex-combatants staged a protest outside the office of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs demanding N$500 000 in compensation for their contribution to Namibia’s liberation struggle (SAPA, 2007). The Veterans Act (No. 2 of 2008) was promulgated in 2008. By February 2013, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs deemed that 24 457 persons had registered with the ministry and were entitled to government benefits, including funding for economic projects (Nyangove, 2013).
The problem with the abovementioned ministry is that it was crafted by selfish individuals whose concern was their “own bellies” evidently – you can see this by the age limitation that was set, the methods applied in terms of indicating who was a veteran and who wasn’t, the classifications of the levels of the hierarchy of veterans and most of all the their misplaced definitions of whom a dependent of a war veteran is? It is quite sad because many veterans of the liberation struggle are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was picked up in later years only, as a result of many years of witnessing the horrors of war.
Many ex-Plan battlefield veterans have been struggling to cope with life in peace time. Many have turned to alcohol and excessive smoking as a coping mechanism while others have also become addicted to gambling. Most of them live with post-traumatic stress disorder which has significantly and negatively affected their lives which includes, but is not limited to hallucinations and nightmares. There seems to be a need to consider more than just giving grants and projects to war veterans. I have been in search of answers to better understand the reasons to why government at the time of independence couldn’t create post-conflict reintegration processes for both veterans and their dependence. That vacuum has left complexities of issues for both parents and child. The Office of the Vice-President, under the Directorate of Veteran Affairs and Marginalisation doesn’t seem to comprehend the need to roll out programs of this magnitude which should have mitigated the many problems faced by veterans such as:
1. Social reintegration (where they are able to be settled into their communities);
2. Political reintegration (where they are able to become a part of the decision-making process);
3. Economic reintegration (engaging in sustainable civilian employment and livelihood);
4. Psychological healing and integration (did they make adjustment in their attitudes and expectations to the new realities of the country, and their lives to deal with war-related trauma).
How well are we as citizens of this state dealing with people that sacrificed their youth for our freedom? What else do we need to understand in terms of better understanding what the in-depths of what do to a person psychologically, mentally and in society? What can be done to help us build remedies that will ensure better care for our veterans in pursuit of an integrated healthy society?
Clearly it would be a pre-assumption from my side to assume that there could possibly be potential threat from a large group of retired, unemployed and dissatisfied individuals with military training if their welfares are not taken care of, but obviously the State has been strategic in positioning most, if not all, war veterans in security services where their participation in civil activity have been reduced, hence the constant frustrations and agitations from the periphery as they have realized that they have been worked out.