Black veterans fight for recognition


AFTER fighting alongside other servicemen in WWII, South Africa’s oldest surviving and other black veterans believe they have been left behind.

As local veterans prepare to commemorate, alongside British and Commonwealth servicemen, soldiers who fought in both world wars and other conflicts, they are engaged in a battle for recognition and financial support.

Members of the Cape Corps Ex-South African Military Legion (Saccel), formerly known as the Cape Colored Corps Legion, have called for the merger with the predominantly white South African Legion (Sal).

Saccel chairman Henry August said the organizations met recently to discuss and resolve issues of veterans’ legitimacy and financial benefits, among others.

The Legion of South African ex-servicemen of the Cape Corps (SACCEL) fears that its history has been written off. Members of the organization, Lilian Primo and Henry August in front of the organization’s premises in Athlone. Photo: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)

However, Saccel was asked to submit documentary evidence of his longtime relationship with Sal.

August claimed they had been “snubbed” because they had not received an invitation to the Sal Centenary celebrations and congress held at the Center for Memory, Healing and Learning at the Castle of Good Hope. last week.

August also alleged that there was property destined for black and white veterans that should be “fairly distributed.”

“We have a building in Athlone that we are struggling to maintain. Recently we needed to secure it by installing a gate and we asked for financial help from Sal. To date, we haven’t received a dime and had to foot the bill from our pension funds, ”August said.

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

Officers of the first battalion. The Legion of South African ex-servicemen of the Cape Corps (SACCEL) now fears that its history will be written off. Photo provided

August said the organization had submitted requests to Sal for such assistance because they were “prohibited” from communicating directly with the British.

Regarding Sal membership, August said there were enough documents to prove his organization’s membership in Sal, but that they are now looking to have her reinstated for life from 1943, based on their “long-standing” relationship with the British Empire Service League (Besl).

“Life membership in the South African Legion should be issued in accordance with the Constitution of the South African Legion with full privileges.

“This planned affiliation of life members to Sal will help us reshape the future of veterans, 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 erase” their history.

Sal spokeswoman Riana Venter said the organization must adhere to Covid-19 regulations and that only Sal members were present “because it is, above all, the centenary of the SA Legion” .

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

“The other request from the SA Legion was that there should be a slight name change for the Saccel, which they refused to comply with. Their refusal to comply with the SA Legion demands led the SA Legion to legally deny their merger request. If Saccel maintains his current position, the SA Legion cannot accept their request, “said Venter.

Regarding veteran spousal funding, she said the National War Fund Trust provides relief grants to surviving World War II veterans and their spouses, and recipients must meet certain criteria.

She said the list of names submitted by Saccel to Sal has been “verified” and the names of those who may potentially be eligible for a subsidy have been communicated to Saccel.

“To date, no application forms have been received from Saccel regarding these veterans or their spouses for whom they are seeking help,” Venter said.

But August denied the allegations and said documents were submitted to Sal, tracing their association with the Besls as early as February 21, 1921.

The documents included an official honor roll showing the names of military personnel of color who died in World War II and a letter from Buckingham Palace congratulating the members of Saccel on the completion and opening of the Cape Corps Memorial Hall in 1976.

“At our August meeting, we discussed the concerns raised a lot and submitted whatever they needed from us. We are waiting for them to take action on this, ”August said.

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

“We are trying to improve his living conditions. He is 98 years old and uses an outhouse, ”August said.

The oldest surviving WWII veteran, William van Wyk, lives on a state pension and his family is concerned about his living conditions. photo: SUPPLIED

Van Wyk’s granddaughter, Lydia, said her grandfather told them that in addition to the medals, he also received a “bike and coat” in recognition of his services.

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

Military veterans of the liberation armies like Umkhonto we Sizwe recently expressed concerns about the financial benefits and held two ministers and a deputy minister hostage.

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