Black war veterans fight for recognition

AFTER having fought alongside other servicemen in World War II, the oldest South African based survivor and other black war veterans believe they have been left in the lurch.

As local war veterans prepare to commemorate, alongside the British and Commonwealth military, soldiers who fought in the two World Wars and other conflicts, they are locked in a battle for recognition and financial support.

The members of the South African Cape Corps Ex-Servicemen’s Legion (Saccel), formerly known as the Cape Coloured Corps Legion, requested amalgamation with the dominantly white South African Legion (Sal).

Saccel chairperson Henry August said the organisations met recently to discuss and resolve the concerns of legitimacy and financial benefits of the war veterans, among other issues.
However, Saccel was asked to submit documentary proof of its long standing relationship with Sal.

August claimed that they were “snubbed” as they had not received an invitation to Sal’s centenary celebrations and congress held at the Castle of Good Hope’s Centre for Memory, Healing and Learning last week.

August also alleged that there were assets which were meant for the black and white war veterans which should be “evenly distributed”.

“We have a building in Athlone which we struggle to maintain. Recently we needed to secure it by installing a gate and we requested financial assistance from Sal. To date we have not received a cent and we had to foot the bill from our pension monies,” said August.

Another concern raised by Saccel was the “lack of financial support” for the spouses of war veterans who died.

August said the organisation submitted applications to Sal for such assistance as they had been “barred” from communicating directly with the British.

Regarding membership to Sal, August said there was enough documentation to prove his organisation’s membership of Sal but they were now seeking for it to reinstated to life membership as from 1943, based on their “long-standing” relationship with the British Empire Service League (Besl).

“The life membership to the South African Legion should be issued in terms of the Constitution of the South African Legion with all the privileges.

“This intended affiliation of life membership to the Sal will help us to reshape the future of war veterans, military veterans, families and their descendants while creating wealth and new opportunities for future generations,“ said August

He said the questions of “legitimacy” raised by Sal were an “attempt to wipe out” their history.

Sal spokesperson Riana Venter said the organisation had to observe the Covid-19 regulations and only Sal members were in attendance “as this is, first and foremost, the SA Legion’s Centenary”.

She said the organisation was not opposed to amalgamation but was still waiting for documents requested from Saccel.

“The other request that the SA Legion had was that there would have to be a slight name change for the Saccel, to which they refused to comply. Their refusal to comply with requests from the SA Legion has resulted in the SA Legion legally refusing their request to amalgamate. If Saccel maintains their current stance, the SA Legion cannot accept their request,” Venter said.

Regarding the funding for the war veterans’ spouses, she said the National War Fund Trust provided relief grants to surviving WWII veterans and their spouses, and beneficiaries had to meet certain criteria.

She said the list of names submitted by Saccel to Sal was “checked” and names of those who could possibly qualify for a grant were communicated to Saccel.

“To date, no application forms were received from Saccel regarding these veterans or their spouses for whom they seek assistance,” Venter said.

But August denied the claims and said documents were submitted to Sal, tracing their association with the Besl as far back as February 21, 1921.

The documents included an official roll of honour showing the names of coloured servicemen who died in World War II and a letter from Buckingham Palace congratulating members of Saccel upon the completion and opening of the Cape Corps Memorial Hall in 1976.

“At our August meeting we argued a lot over the concerns raised and we submitted everything they needed from us. We are waiting for them to take action on these,“ said August.

He said their efforts for recognition would also benefit one of the oldest survivors of WWII, William van Wyk, who lived in Colville, Kimberly.

“We are trying to have his living conditions improved. He is 98 years old and uses an outside toilet,” August said.

Van Wyk’s granddaughter, Lydia, said her grandfather told them that apart from the medals, he also received a “bicycle and a coat” in recognition of his service.

“He attends parades to commemorate the contribution of the war veterans but his welfare is not being taken care of. He only receives R40 extra on the old-age pension,” Lydia said.

Military veterans from the liberation armies such as Umkhonto we Sizwe recently voiced concerns about financial benefits and held two ministers and a deputy minister hostage.